In Roanoke VA, the weekend after Memorial Day is reserved for the Lebanese Festival at the St. Elias Maronite Church. This year is the 20th anniversary of the festival, the dates are Friday, June 1 to Sunday, June 3, 2018.
Why such a large Lebanese festival here in Roanoke VA? Because Roanoke wouldn’t be Roanoke without the Syrian-Lebanese immigrants that poured into our city in the late 19th and early 20th century. During this period in its history, Lebanon was under Turkish rule. When citizens of this region left their homeland in search of a better life for themselves and their families many settled in our small city in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We have comparable climate and a booming railroad economy during that time. Most of these new residents to Roanoke were Maronite Catholic. In 1917 approx. 250 Lebanese immigrants established and funded a new church in downtown Roanoke, St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church. So industrious and successful were many of this founding group that the church was started and built with no debt!
These immigrants came to work, many worked on the railroad and others went on to open dry good stores, restaurants, confectioneries (small grocery stores), hotels and many other businesses. These initial immigrants and their descendants started businesses that we still know today in Roanoke. For instance Aesy’s Restaurant, the Ritz Hotel (now the site of Billy’s), Milan Brothers Tobacco, Roanoke Food & Produce Company, and even a small coffee roasting operation that became H&C Coffee. Recent Lebanese immigrants launched Cedars Lebanese Restaurant (a featured stop on Tour Roanoke’s Food and Cultural Tour), and Mediterranean Hala Food and Meat Market.
Now that you know why we feature Roanoke’s Lebanese culture on our food tours and why we celebrate at the Lebanese Festival, here’s what a little more about the festival:
Food. Oh, the food.
We’ll feast on grape leaves, feta cheese pie, meat pies, spinach feta rollups, yogurt cucumber salad, grilled lamb and beef kabobs. We’re dreaming of Kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon, with its layered lean ground sirloin, cracked wheat, onions, and spices, topped with butter and baked.
Lebanese pastries will make your heart sing and your spirit soar. Baklava, Nammoura, Ghraybeh, Ma’moul, and Zalabia are on the menu. You can work off the calories dancing the Dabke.
Music and dance
We’ll dance the Dabke, a Lebanese line dance performed at joyous occasions. According to folk traditions, the dance originated at a time when houses were built from stone with a roof made of wood and dirt, which constantly needed to be compacted. Neighbors would gather and go from roof to roof stomping. This ritual developed into the song Ala Dalouna (which means “Let’s go and help.”)
The Lebanese have been weaving beautiful tapestries since the 17th century. They were used as floor carpets, bed covers, blankets, and artwork. Traditionally, six women sit on the ground facing a vertical loom and sing directions to each other. They weave and knot the tapestries with strong sheep wool. Their designs are peppered with small geometrical designs and bold colors.
We’ll see you there!