It’s one of the longest-running events at Oglebay and Sunday the Mahrajan Lebanese Heritage Festival was held once again, just like it has been every year since the 1930’s. The word Mahrajan translates to “festival” in English, however, for the thousands who share Lebanese heritage and those who just enjoy the culture, the word has come to mean reunion according to Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Wheeling.

“It’s the Lebanese hospitality that draws it, you know, they come from all over,” said Carol Dougherty, a member of the parish council. “When my cousin was alive she used to drive all the way from Oregon, just for the festival so it draws a lot of people from all over the country.”

One man who was drawn to the Mahrajan was Father George Nedeff who currently leads a church in Texas but he never misses a chance to return to his West Virginia roots.

“I come here every year to enjoy our culture, good food, good entertainment, a lot of fun,” said Father Nedeff.

Dougherty said there are three things that keep people coming back to the Mahrajan every year and those are the cornerstones of Lebanese culture.

“Their faith is number one, then their food, then their hospitality and then of course the Lebanese love laughter, they love food, they love dancing and they love fun,” said Dougherty.

One of the men in charge of the ever important food this year is Nicolas John who says after watching over his father and uncles for years, they’ve got the orders just right.

“He and his two brothers did the grills my entire childhood. I’ve been doing this since I was 10 or 11 years old and the past 5 or 6 years I kind of took over so dad can go dance the dubke on the dance floor,” said John. “I do it for the church and for my grandmother.”

Although Lebanon is a country with a population roughly the same size as Kentucky, the culture still has deep roots in the Ohio Valley that continue to grow and spread.

“We have quite a few Syrians and Lebanese people who migrated to Parkersburg, West Virginia so I grew up in that culture, very proud of it, and I’ve had a wonderful experience,” said Father Nedeff.

The Mahrajan originally began as a fundraiser to rebuild the Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Wheeling after it burned to the ground in 1932. Now the money raised at the festival goes towards the everyday upkeep of the rebuilt church.