With less than two months before this year's annual Mahrajan, the parishioners of Our Lady of Lebanon Church and volunteers from the greater Wheeling area will be finalizing plans to transform the grounds of Oglebay Park's Levenson Shelter into a lively festival celebrating the unique Lebanese culture.
Set for Sunday, Aug. 10, this Ohio Valley tradition has flourished for more than 80 years from the hard work and devotion of hundreds of volunteers who bake Lebanese delicacies, secure entertainment, sell advertisements in the festival's program, promote the event, and manage various venues at the festival.
With true appreciation of the church and the opportunity to share cherished traditions that have been passed down in families since 1933 when the first Mahrajan was held to raise funds to rebuild the church after it was destroyed in a fire, it's not unusual to find several generations of family members working together to bring the church's largest fundraiser to life.
"Our event is made possible by the many volunteers and community businesses that work hard to bring our collective vision to life," festival chairman Lou Khourey said.
"Regardless of our goals, they exceed our expectations in hosting one of the area's largest and most enjoyable one-day festivals."
Many Maronite Catholic Churches around the world host a Mahrajan around the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Held on the second Sunday each August, thousands of friends and families of every ethnicity return to Wheeling from around the country to celebrate a day of lasting friendships filled with authentic Lebanese food, music, and dancing.
"For me, the Mahrajan is a festival of friendship and thanksgiving," said Natalie Committee of Washington, D.C. and formerly of Wheeling.
"I've always been proud to share my Lebanese heritage with others and have made many friends at the Mahrajan, where everyone's family for the day."
Since moving to Washington several years ago, Committee has attended other Lebanese festivals in the metro area and says none compare to Our Lady of Lebanon's festival in Wheeling.
"Our Mahrajan is superior to other Lebanese festivals in every sense of the word. The quality of our food, entertainment, atmosphere, and the people make for a memorable and authentic experience," says Committee. "I can't wait to make the trip home this year with friends from D.C. to show off our Mahrajan."
The Mahrajan begins with a Maronite Catholic liturgy at 10:30 a.m. on the festival grounds. Officiated by Monsignor Bakhos Chidiac, pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon Church, parts of the mass are recited in Aramaic, continuing the traditional Maronite Rite.
Authentic Lebanese food is served from noon-7 p.m. or until supplies last. As in the past, visitors will dine on lamb shish kabob, kibbee, rolled grape leaves, tabouli, hummus, meat and spinach pies, tossed salad, baklava, and a variety of other Lebanese pastries. Food is sold ala carte; prices range from $1-$7 per item.
Live Middle-Eastern music and dance entertainment begins at 1 p.m., and continues throughout the day. A favorite of festival-goers is the Dabke - traditional folk dance led by a drummer of the David Hakim ensemble of Cleveland and half-hour sets of Middle Eastern dance shows performed by Conchi and the Alhambra Dancers of Cincinnati. The event includes games and activities for children of all ages. Vendors will be on site selling souvenirs and specialty gift items.
Proceeds from this year's Mahrajan will be used to enhance the veterans' memorial honoring parishioners who gave their lives serving America in World War II and the Korean War. Renovations are planned to better integrate the entrance to the church's former hall with the historic church building and add lighting to the memorial, which is adjacent to the entrance in the church's parking lot on Eoff Street. Minor repairs to Cedar Hall (the church's community space) and additional improvements to the worship interior are also being considered. In addition to funds raised at the Mahrajan, donations are being accepted for these and other projects at Our Lady of Lebanon.
To offset the costs of the Mahrajan, monies are raised through several ancillary activities in advance of the one-day festival. Patrons purchase advertisements in the festival's program to honor family members and to promote their businesses. The deadline to place an advertisement in the program is June 30.
The Mahrajan, held rain or shine, is open to the public and admission is free. Tickets for food and beverages can be purchased at the festival. Reservations for tables and chairs can be made by calling 304-233-1688. Free, non-reserved seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis in the dining area.
A video capturing the festivities and additional information can be found at www.ololwv.com.
For more details, call Monsignor Bakhos Chidiac at 304-233-1688.