LAWRENCE —  Parishioners and community members alike came together on Saturday to celebrate the Mahrajan, an annual gathering held at St. Anthony Maronite Church.

The festival, which takes place over two days, celebrates Lebanese history and culture. It has taken place at St. Anthony for 43 years, according to Pastor Peter Azar.

“This is the main event of the church,” Azar said. “We do it to not only promote our culture, but also bring the community together.”

Young and old come out and participate in the festival. There are activities for children, such as bouncy houses and carnival games, in addition to live music and a large raffle with 86 different prizes. Guests can enjoy authentic Lebanese food as well.

The church typically prepares a month and half ahead for the Mahrajan, due to the difficulty of securing city permits for noise and food inspection. But the sight of seeing the community come together for two days makes the process worth it, says Azar.

“I love when people run into each other and say, ‘I haven’t seen you in forever!’” Azar said. “Seeing everyone come together is such a blessing.”

Many St. Anthony parishioners volunteer their time throughout the festival, from selling raffle tickets to preparing fresh food. They have been going to the festival for decades, and want to be a part of putting it all together.

“It really is wonderful,” Elaine Azzi, a longtime parishioner from Methuen, said. “We work hard to put it all together, but it’s worth it in the end.”

One of the highlights of the festival occurs when younger members of the church perform the Dabke, a special Lebanese dance performed at joyous occasions. The other members of the community celebrate the Mahrajan while watching their sons, daughters, and grandchildren spread the good feelings of the festival.

That special family atmosphere remains Azar’s favorite part of the two-day celebration.

“We really try to promote that (atmosphere). It gives everyone the opportunity to step away from the stresses in their lives and spend time with their families,” Azar said.

With people traveling from throughout the Merrimack Valley to attend this event, those who work to create the Mahrajan understand how lucky they are to be a part of a strong community.

“I pray to God, thanking him for these days,” Azzi said. “We all really enjoy it.”

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