Mahrajan festival kicks off 50th anniversary celebration Friday

Sep. 1—LAWRENCE — Food, drink, dance and more are on tap during the 50th annual Mahrajan celebration at St. Anthony Maronite Church this weekend.

Mahrajan means "festival" in Lebanese, said Mounir Daher, who has been involved with the local Lebanese celebration since coming to the United States in 1979, she said.

St. Anthony Maronite Church at 145 Amesbury St. was the first in the U.S. to hold a Mahrajan celebration of this kind, she said.

"Others started using our formula," Daher said.

She was among a corps of volunteers at the church Thursday readying for the weekend-long celebration.

Daher said the volunteers all take vacation time and leave from their jobs to make sure the Mahrajan is plentiful and successful.

Some, she said, "have been busy baking for a month."

"I really want to thank the volunteers. There are a lot of people who work so hard and great supporters of the culture," she said.

Popular Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine will be served, with spices for some dishes shipped directly from Lebanon. Lebanese desserts, wine and liquor will also be available, she said.

A headlining event of the Mahrajan is Dabkeh, a form of traditional line dancing, which will be showcased. The roots of the dance go back to the building of clay homes in Lebanon and the stomping on the roofs of the homes in the sun to get the clay to cure, Daher explained.

"It's a very, very popular tradition in Lebanon," she said.

Young adults will also play the tabel, a huge drum. Belly dancing lessons will also be offered, she said.

The Mahrajan runs Friday from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from noon to midnight.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.