A weekend of food and fun for the whole family

Photo: St. Ignatius Youth Dabke Troupe performing

By Terri Gordon

The St. Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Church is gearing up for its 24th annual Greater Dayton Lebanese Festival and it promises to be rich in cultural offerings—food, entertainment, and activities—and did I say food?!

According to festival board chairman Joe Baddour, church members are already planning and preparing the handmade traditional foods featured for sale at the event— Kibbee, Kafta, Chicken Shawarma (the “Lebanese version of the gyro”), stuffed grape leaves, hummus dip, and homemade Middle Eastern mountain bread with zhatar seasoning (a blend of herbs and spices, including thyme, cumin, and sesame seed). Lebanese pastries include the Lebanese shortbread called ghraybeh, and nammuoora, a sweet cake.

Lebanese baklawa, made with pistachios and pine nuts instead of walnuts, and Tabouli, a  salad made with cracked wheat, tomatoes, mint, parsley,onions, and olive oil will be made fresh for, and during, the festival. Other Middle Eastern salads will also be featured. To wash it all down, there will be wine and beer as well as soft drinks.

“We feature Lebanese wine,” Baddour says. Red and chardonnay, and we also have Lebanese beer.”

The Lebanese Festival is sponsored by St Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Church and is held on the church grounds. The church has held the festival since its establishment as a parish though its venue has changed locations several times, from the site of the first church on Beckman Street to the Polish Club, to the grounds of St. Francis of Assisi, to Riverscape, and finally to the current church grounds on Springboro Pike, in Miami Township.

The event takes place starting on Friday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m. It continues on Saturday, Aug. 26, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.and on Sunday, Aug. 27, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Aside from authentic Lebanese cuisine, there will be cultural display booths, amusement rides, vendor booths, and stage entertainment with various dance troupes performing traditional Middle Eastern Dance, including Dabje, the folk dance of Lebanon.

Lebanon itself is a small country—“about the size of Rhode Island,” Baddour says—with a diverse population.

The country can trace its roots back to Canaanite and Phoenician times, suffering subsequent conquest and rule by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. In the Middle Ages, they were under Arab, and then, Ottoman rule until World War I, after which they lived under Allied Administration, and then French Rule. After World War II, Lebanon petitioned for, and Charles de Gaulle granted, its independence. The republic formed exists still, though neighboring conflicts in Syria and Israel often threaten to spill into the country, keeping the populace from the peace and security it wants.

According to Baddour, the population is about 60 percent Muslim and 40 percent Christian, with multiple factions within each group. In all, he says, there are 27 different religious groups represented in the country. The Maronite Christians comprise the largest denomination within the Christian population, and constitutionally, the president must be of the Maronite faith.

“Our church is one of 23 Eastern rite churches that are in communion with Rome,” Baddour explains. “So, we are part of the Catholic Church, but we are not the Roman rite. We are the Maronite rite.”

The Lebanese community in Dayton grew out of influxes of refugees beginning early in the 20th century—largely due to war and civil unrest in Lebanon and its surrounding region. Strangers in a strange land, they stuck together and helped each other navigate their new home. The closest Maronite church was in Cincinnati, so they made do locally with services in makeshift locations when a priest was available. They formed clubs—a women’s and a men’s, later combined into one Lebanese American Club—but longed for a church.

The civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990 brought more Lebanese to the area, and the group finally petitioned the Maronite Bishop in New York to establish a local parish. Their wish finally came true.

“In 1993, it became a full-fledged district,” Baddour says.

The very next year, 1994, they held their first Greater Dayton Lebanese Festival, and have been doing so every year since.

“We serve tasty Lebanese food,” Baddour says, “and we provide entertainment. We have plenty of parking spots. We have free parking and free admission.”

For anyone who is interested, St. Ignatius will hold a special mass before the festival begins on Sunday. It will begin at 10 a.m. on Aug. 27. Father Guy Sarkis will conduct the Maronite Catholic Mass, using an ancient Eucharistic prayer that will be read in Aramaic, the language Christ is believed to have spoken.

The 24th annual Greater Dayton Lebanese Festival begins on Friday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m. It continues through Sunday, Aug. 27 at St. Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Church, located at 5915 Springboro Pike (Route 741), in Miami Township, just south of where Route 741 and Alex-Bell Road meet. Walgreens is next door and Meijer’s is across the road. Parking is free and the festival asks that people NOT park at Walgreen’s. For more information, visit https://www.StIParish.org/ or call 937-428-0372.

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Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks (http://tsgordon.blogspot.com) is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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