Jewel of the Mediterranean: Festival organizer talks about Lebanese heritage

Family is the cornerstone of Lebanese culture
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 4:36 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -Dancing and food are part of the Lebanese culture. Those things are on display this weekend at St. Elias Catholic Church in Roanoke. The Lebanese Festival is back on there, after a three-year hiatus.

But there is much more to Lebanese culture and the country that many people might not know.

Marcelle Melki, who is a parishioner at St. Elias, was born in Lebanon and came to America as a little girl. “I came when I was seven; I didn’t know a word of English,” Melki said. She still has family in Lebanon and goes back to visit.

Melki wants to teach others about the beauty and culture of her homeland.

“Lebanon is beautiful. They used to call it the pearl of the Middle East. It’s just a beautiful part of the world,” Melki said.

Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, she said many people don’t realize its beauty.

“It’s like the Swiss Alps. You can ski up in the mountains and come down to the ocean later in the day,” Melki said. “It’s not what people think it is.”

And Beirut, she said, is like a little New York City. “Everything is there: food and dancing at night. It just stays open all night,” Melki said.

Education is valued. Children there learn Arabic, English and French in school.

But she says the cornerstone of the Lebanese heritage is family, intertwined with food.

“You have to sit at the table and have your children around you and that’s what Lebanese family is,” Melki said. “It’s togetherness and if you’re not there, they will wait on you to come and sit down and have your dinner; that’s just the way it is. Sadly it used to be that way in this country but over there it’s number one, still.”

So Melki welcomes everyone to be a part of the Lebanese family this weekend and celebrate Lebanese food, dance and culture.

The Lebanese Festival runs June 2-4 at St. Elias Catholic Church on Cove Road in Roanoke. For more information click here.