Persians around the world celebrate Yalda Night since ancient times. Yalda night is said to be first celebrated by the Babylonians near Persia. As a matter of fact, Yalda night celebration is one of the most ancient festivals in Iran. This ancient festival goes back to the ancient time when many Persians believed in Zoroastrian religion. Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the victory of light over darkness and the renewal of the sun. in fact, Yalda night is the longest night of the year and the history behind Yalda night celebration is that on Yalda eve, Persians have celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light. The early Christians had brought Yalda night celebration to Iran after migrating to Iran from Rome, but it is still not clear how and when Yalda has entered the Persian language. The background of Yalda night dates back to ancient times, but its exact time is not clear. Some archeologists regard its origin as seven thousand years old. They refer to the potteries of that time. These pots have animal designs of Persian calendar months such as scorpion. That is why despite their scarcity, historians and archeologists have traced back the history of Yalda night as seven thousand years old.
The meaning of the word Yalda and where it is celebrated
Yalda is a Syriac word entering the Persian language and it means birth. This occasion is also famous as Shab-e Chelleh or the fortieth night which is a celebration of winter on December 21st – the last night of fall and the longest night throughout the whole year. Chelleh night is in fact the same as Yalda night; because since the following morning the great Chelleh of winter gets started. Persians have had two great Chellehs in their history. The first one refers to summer time and the last one belongs to winter time. The latter which begins right after Yalda night is in fact the beginning of winter and the cold is more severe during this time of year. Yalda night celebration is celebrated in many other countries neighboring Iran. In fact, besides Iran, it is celebrated in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Armenia. The people of these countries celebrate Yalda night with the same or similar traditions. Ancient Iranians or namely Persians believed that evil forces were powerful and prevailing at this last night of the year and the day after this longest night of the year belonged to the god of wisdom, Ahura Mazda. In fact, the world famous Persian poet, Saadi, has written in his book “the real morning will not arrive until Yalda night has gone”.
Iranian Yalda night table
The table of Persian Yalda night is decorated with miscellaneous and colorful fruits and dishes, gifts, book of poetry usually Divan of Hafiz and so on. The fruits that are eaten at this long night are usually water melon, dried fruits such as pistachio, dried apricot, pomegranate, orange and many other types of edible fruits to entertain the attendees during this meeting. Normally the eldest person of the family reads out poetry from Hafiz or people choose a poem of Hafiz randomly and it is said to predict their future. On other occasions, this person or other experienced members of the family narrate stories of their own youth regarding their bravery in life and the other people enjoy the long night. In the meantime, a complete dinner is prepared and the guests eat dinner which is usually a traditional local meal of the city where they live.
Reasons for celebrating Yalda night
There are two main reasons for the celebration of Yalda night in Iran among Persians and the neighboring countries. The first one is the victory of light and the sun over darkness and oppression; in the past, people lived from farming and keeping animals and the climate effects was very important to them. They had sought the reasons for the occurrence of different phenomena. They believed that night and day are in an eternal quarrel; longer days show the victory of light and shorter days show the victory of darkness. So, they had celebration on the last day of fall which is the longest night of year. Because since its following day the days gradually became longer and the god of light took over the devil of darkness. The second reason is the night of birth of Mithra and sun and the beginning of creation; Mithraism had existed in Iran before Zoroastrianism. Believes in Mithraism regarded the night of Yalda as the night of birth of Mehr goddess or Mithra. At this long and cold night, the goddess of Mehr appears in a hollow and shallow cave and brings the sun as the gift. .
Customs of Yalda night
The first tradition is fire; in the past, all the members of the families sat around a fire but today they gather round a heater or fire place. The fire has been the symbol of the sun since the past and they set fires to respect the sun. others believe that people have set fire to destroy bad omen and dark forces. Storytelling is another tradition of Yalda night; it is a kind of poetry reading or story narration and the whole family gathered together and the eldest member narrated stories for the other members to entertain them. The family also read out lines of Hafiz poetry book and they randomly choose one poem and interpret the poet. The inevitable part of Yalda night celebration in Persia is Shahnameh Khani (reading the book of the kings). But unfortunately, this tradition is dying out.
Yalda night table
One of the most interesting traditions of Yalda night celebration in Persia is its table and the foods that Persian families eat at this night. Its table includes special fruits, nuts and other sorts of dried fruits. Fruits are an integral part of Yalda celebration table; on this table, the main role is on red colored fruits and their red color is the symbol of the sun. Pomegranate is the symbol of abundance and fruitfulness. It is also the symbol of gladness and the sun due to its red color. Watermelon is the next fruit eaten at Yalda night; as it is both the symbol of the sun and the reminder of the hot season. There are also other kinds of fruits such as oranges, apples persimmons, pears on this table. Gifts of yalda night include several types of nuts such as pistachio, walnut and sugar loaf which is the symbol of abundance and sweetness, a colorful piece of cloth, winter clothes, shoes and bag, a piece of gold, and a divan of Hafiz which is usually given to the bride as the gift.
Yalda night is celebrated in Iran since seven thousand years ago. Families gather together to spend the longest night of the year and celebrate the coming of light with their own customs and traditions.
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