Middle Eastern Food Festival Returns for 22nd Year
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Middle Eastern Food Festival Returns for 22nd Year

Festival hosted by Holy TransfiguratiMelkite Greek-Catholic Church features, food and sweets, family activities and traditional culture.

Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church volunteers sell sweets hand-made by church members. The festival will sell 12,000 pieces of sweets over the two-day festival on Labor Day weekend.

Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church volunteers sell sweets hand-made by church members. The festival will sell 12,000 pieces of sweets over the two-day festival on Labor Day weekend. Photo courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, McLean

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Father Joseph Francavilla and Middle Eastern Food Festival “sweets” chair Samira Bailey, of Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in McLean, are ready for the church’s 21st Annual Middle Eastern Food Festival on Labor Day weekend.

Food and festival-lovers alert! The annual Labor Day weekend Middle Eastern Food Festival is upon the McLean/Vienna area once again. And if you’ve wondered how a Northern Virginia foodfest can go through 200 pounds of lamb, 400 pounds of beef, 450 pounds of chicken, 180 pounds of butter and 12,000 pieces of sweets, this is your opportunity to find out.

On Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 30 - 31, Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, on Lewinsville Road in McLean hosts its annual Labor Day weekend Middle Eastern Food Festival, featuring an abundance of meats, savories and sweets, folkloric music, and activities for children. The two-day festival is open to the public and no admission is charged. “This is our opportunity to share our foods and traditions with the community,” said sweets chair, Samira Bailey.

Baking and food preparation began in June. The freezers in the church kitchen hold hundreds of cookies. “We use the best ingredients we can find,” said Bailey. “We bring in our traditional foods, especially the holiday sweets. To us, holidays are very important and food and sweets are a part of family traditions.” Many of the sweets are symbolic, Bailey said, and Grandma, Auntie, and Mama would remind the children why they were making what they were. Baklava, a favorite Arabic treat in America, would have been served at weddings and births. “When there is baklava, there’s something to be happy about,” Bailey said. And desserts are not served at funerals, only at “happy occasions.”

THE FESTIVAL’S MAIN ROLE is to share the food traditions, culture and faith of Holy Transfiguration parishioners with others outside the church. Family and hospitality are treasured. “When you share a meal with someone, especially at their table, then there is a bond created, a bond of hospitality and friendship,” said Holy Transfiguration pastor, Father Joseph Francavilla. “So, how can I be your enemy if I’ve broken bread with you?”

21st Annual Middle Eastern Food Festival

Labor Day weekend, Saturday, Aug. 30, 11a.m. to 11p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 31, noon to 6 p.m., Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, 8501 Lewinsville Road, McLean. Middle Eastern dishes – from shawarma wraps to plated dinners - sweets, Arabic coffee, and activities for families and children. Lamb dinner Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday, all day, $14.

For more information, go to http://www.Middle...">www.MiddleEastern... or call 703-734-9566. Free admission.

He said the food festival builds bridges of understanding between different cultures and different faiths.

The festival draws diverse ethnic groups, various faiths, from through the metro-D.C. area, who share communal dining tables.

In its 21st year, the festival has helped raised funds for the church. In 2013, parishioners decided to donate 10 percent of the proceeds from the festival to children of refugees in the Middle East. They will be doing the same this year. “The children are the most vulnerable,” said Father Francavilla. “They don’t understand what is going on around them. They see the hardships, the bodies.” Refugees, said the priest, come to churches for help because social assistance in the Middle East countries is poor. “Even the churches are being overwhelmed,” he said. “We give assistance to anyone who asks, regardless of faith.” Church and community response was generous last year. Along with the congregation, festival guests donated to the fund. Father Francavilla said the church took what it made and added to it, rounding off the figure to $10,000 and sending the money to bishops in the dioceses of Egypt Syria, and Lebanon. In September, Patriarch of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, coming from Syria, will accept the contribution.

Father Francavilla said the festival has been voted the “best” Labor Day food festival by readers of Washingtonian magazine.

“You should come because it’s a chance for you to have a wonderful time, eat delicious food, make new friends and learn about our faith and our folklore,” said Bailey.

ADMISSION to the festival and parking are free. Sweets are sold by the piece – and keep in-mind that there are 12,000 pieces – and entrees and a la carte are sold by plates. Shawarma wraps (lamb, beef or chicken) and chicken shish kebab sell for about $8 each. Mixed platters range from about $7 to $10, and the spit-roasted lamb dinner is priced at $14. A la carte items range from $3 to $6 each. Sweets prices vary, and the baklava and the date or nut-filled maamoul are stand-outs.

Kids’ activities include pony rides and a bounce house. Vendors sell Middle Eastern goods, and, on the back lawn, meats are grilled, carved and served.

For more information, go to www.MiddleEasternFoodFestival.com or call 703-734-9566.