NORMAN — Chris and Ashley Fleming brought their children William, 3, and Ainsley, 11 months, to the Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival because they wanted to expose them to a different culture.
“It's been great. We got to sample the food, listen to music and see performances, to understand more of the culture, and the similarities and differences. It exposes the kids to something other than the homogeneous world we live in,” Chris Fleming said.
The festival hosted Saturday by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church featured traditional Lebanese songs, dances, food and a chance to learn a sampling of the language.
“It's a tradition in all our Maronite churches for us to celebrate Lebanese culture once a year in a festival,” said the Rev. Sami Chaaya. “We try to bring our culture alive wherever we are.”
Despite unseasonably cold weather for part of the day, the festival drew a large crowd of people eager to immerse themselves in a new culture or celebrate their own Lebanese heritage.
The event kicked off with members of the University of Oklahoma's Lebanese Student Association performing a “dabkeh,” a traditional Middle Eastern dance similar to step dancing.
According to folklore, the style of dancing originated when people would stomp clay onto their wooden roofs to insulate them.
One of the dancers, Hiba Baroud, is an OU industrial engineering major and president of the Lebanese Student Association.
“It really gives people an idea of what Lebanon is and who the Lebanese people are,” she said.
After the dabkeh dancing, singer Elite Khalil performed several numbers, including songs by Fayruz, a Lebanese singer of international renown.
Lebanese cuisine also was served. Along with hummus, tabbouleh and pita, festivalgoers were able to sample foods such as stuffed grape leaves; kibbeh, which is a fried food made with bulgur wheat, ground meat and onion; and kafta, made from beef seasoned with herbs and spices.
For those with a sweet tooth, church members sold homemade cakes, cookies and baklava.
La Baguette, a local restaurant, donated items for the sale.
Emmy-award winning journalist and war correspondent Mike Boettcher was keynote speaker, honoring his friend, the late Anthony Shadid.
A gifted reporter of Lebanese descent, Shadid, 43, collapsed and died of an apparent asthma attack last year while covering the war in Syria for The New York Times.
Boettcher described the two-time Pulitzer winner as a journalist who “could write poetry on deadline.”
Although the festival lasted just a day, the celebration of culture it embodies and the learning experiences it carries with it go on much longer, organizers said.
Next year the festival will return, inviting back old friends and welcoming newcomers.
“That's the Lebanese spirit,” Chaaya said. “Just enjoy the minute.”