Iranians celebrate Dec. 21 as the longest night of the year. It is called Yalda in the Persian solar calendar during which special ceremonies are held.
On Yalda Night, families gather at the house of parents or grandparents to spend the night eating delicious foods, nuts, fruits and reading Hafez poems.
Yalda Night is a good opportunity to be with family members and friends, refresh old friendships and mend strained relations, Iranchamber.com reported.
During Yalda Night, fruits such as watermelon and pomegranates and nuts like pistachio, almond, walnut and dried seeds are usually served.
Also known as Shab-e Chelleh, Yalda is rooted in Iran’s history and demonstrates Iranians’ eagerness in forging strong family ties and friendly relationships.
The feast was one of the most important celebrations in ancient Iran some 5,000 years ago and continues to be celebrated to this day.
Ancient Iranians celebrated different feasts throughout the year. Sadeh, Mehregan and Tirgan are some of the feasts celebrated by Iranians.
Yalda means birth and is held 40 days before the next major Persian festival, namely Jashn-e Sadeh.
This year, Yalda Night has coincided with the lunar month of Muharram in which Shiites commemorate the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Hence, Yalda Night is expected to be held with simplicity and in a solemn manner.
Special ceremonies, which comply with the ambiance of Muharram, have been organized by different organizations for the night.
Victory Over Darkness
In most ancient cultures, including Persia, the start of the solar year has been marked to celebrate the victory of light over darkness and the renewal of the Sun.
For instance, Egyptians, since 4,000 years ago, celebrate the rebirth of the sun at this time of the year.
They set the length of their festival at 12 days to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun calendar. They make decorations using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month.
The Persians adopted their annual renewal feast from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their own 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 of Dey known as “Khorram-Rouz”, belongs to Ahura Mazda, the lord of wisdom.
Since subsequent days get longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of sun over darkness. The occasion was celebrated as the festival of Deygan and dedicated to Ahura Mazda on the first day of the month of Dey.
Bonfires would be burnt all night to ensure the defeat of the forces of evil. There would be feasts, acts of charity and prayers performed to ensure the total victory of sun that was essential for the protection of winter crops.
In ancient times, there would be prayers to Mithra (Mehr) and feasts in his honor, since Mithra is responsible for protecting “the light of the early morning” known as ‘Havangah’. It was also assumed that Ahura Mazda would grant people’s wishes, especially those with no offspring hoped to be blessed with children, if they performed all the rites on this occasion.
One of the themes of the feast was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and servants reversed roles. The king dressed in white would change place with ordinary people.
Grudges and quarrels were forgotten, and wars postponed. Businesses, courts and schools were closed.
Rich and poor became equal, masters served slaves and children headed the family. Cross-dressing and masquerades, merriment of all kinds prevailed.
A mock king was crowned and masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed. This tradition persisted till the Sassanid rule, and is mentioned by Biruni and others in their recordings of pre-Islamic rituals and feasts.
The Egyptian and Persian traditions merged in ancient Rome, in a festival to the ancient god of seedtime, Saturn. The Romans exchanged gifts, partied and decorated their homes with greenery.
Yalda Night is a social and cultural feast that should be preserved. The younger generation should be reminded of the benefits of such a feast and encouraged not to ignore it under any circumstances.
The recitation of verses from the Divan of Hafez lends spiritual weight to the occasion and should not be forgotten.
The Iranian Jews, who are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the country, also celebrate Illanout (Tree Festival) at around the same time, in addition to the Yalda Night rituals.
Yalda Night has become to symbolize many things in Persian poetry: separation from a beloved one, loneliness and waiting.
After the night passes, a transformation takes place: the waiting ends, light shines and goodness prevails.
(Source: Iran Daily)