Celebrating Yalda Night
Iranians around the world celebrate Yalda, which is one of the most ancient Persian festivals. On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness. Considered the longest night of the year, Yalda eve is the night when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the god of light. Yalda, which means birth, is a Syriac word imported into the Persian language. It is also referred to as Shab-e Chelleh, a celebration of winter solstice on December 21- the last night of fall and the longest night of the year. Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda.
In addition to Iran, Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and some Caucasian states such as Azerbaijan and Armenia share the same tradition and celebrate Yalda Night annually at this time of the year. On this night, family members get together (most often in the house of the eldest member) and stay awake all night long. Dried nuts, watermelon and pomegranate are served, as supplications to God for increasing his bounties, as well classic poetry and old mythologies are read aloud. Iranians believe those who begin winter by eating summer fruits would not fall ill during the cold season. Therefore, eating watermelons is one of the most important traditions in this night, Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life - the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of a pomegranate symbolizes birth or dawn, and their bright red
seeds the glow of life.
As days start lengthening, ancient Iranians believe that at the end of the first night of winter which coincides with December 21 this year, darkness is defeated by light and therefore they must celebrate the whole night. As the 13th-century Iranian poet Sadi writes in his book Boustan. "The true morning will not come until the Yalda Night is gone."
Early Christians linked this very ancient Persian celebration to Mithra, and to the birth anniversary of Prophet Jesus. In birth, sun and Prophet Jesus are close to each other, says one Iranian tale of Yalda. Today, Christmas is celebrated slightly off from Yalda Night. However, Christmas and Yalda are both celebrated in a similar fashion by staying up all night and celebrating it with family and friends, and eating special foods.
Iranians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month Azar is the longest night of the year, when the forces of evil are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. The next day, which is the first day of the month Dey known as 'khorram rooz. or “khore rooz (the day of the sun), belongs to Ahura Mazda, the lord of wisdom. Since days become longer and nights shorter, this day marks the victory of the sun over darkness. The occasion was celebrated as the festival of Deygan, which is dedicated to Ahura Mazda on the first day. of Dey. One of the other traditions of Yalda night, which has been added in recent centuries, is the recitation of the classic poetry of Hafez, the Iranian poet of 14th century AD. Each member of the family makes a wish and randomly opens the book and asks the eldest member of the family to read it aloud. What is expressed in that poem is believed to be the interpretation of the wish and whether and how it will come true. This is called Faal-e Hafez (Hafez Omen). Coinciding with the beginning of the winter, Yalda is an occasion to celebrate the end of the crop season. It is today an event to thank the Lord for all blessings and to pray for
prosperity in the next year.