What is Yalda night?
Yalda means birth.
Shab-e Yalda (“Yalda night” Persian: شب یلدا) or Shab-e Chelleh (“night of forty”, Persian: شب چله) is a Persian festival celebrated on the “longest and darkest night of the year,” Yalda is a winter solstice celebration. that is, in the night of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice. Calendrically, this corresponds to the night of December 20/21 (±1) in the Gregorian calendar, and to the night between the last day of the ninth month (Azar) and the first day of the tenth month (Dey) of the Iranian civil calendar.
The longest and darkest night of the year is a time when friends and family gather together to eat, drink and read poetry (especially Hafez) until well after midnight. Fruits and nuts are eaten and pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant. The red color in these fruits symbolizes the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life. The poems of Divan-e Hafez, which can be found in the bookcases of most Iranian families, are read or recited on various occasions such as this festival and Nowruz.
In Zoroastrian tradition the longest and darkest night of the year was a particularly inauspicious day, and the practices of what is now known as “Shab-e Chelleh/Yalda” were originally customs intended to protect people from evil during that long night, at which time the evil forces of Ahriman were imagined to be at their peak. People were advised to stay awake most of the night, lest misfortune should befall them, and people would then gather in the safety of groups of friends and relatives, share the last remaining fruits from the summer, and find ways to pass the long night together in good company. The next day (i.e. the first day of Dae month) was then a day of celebration, and (at least in the 10th century, as recorded by Al-Biruni), the festival of the first day of Dae month was known as Ḵorram-ruz (joyful day) or Navad-ruz (ninety days [left to Nowruz]) Although the religious significance of the long dark night have been lost, the old traditions of staying up late in the company of friends and family have been retained in Iranian culture to the present day.
How does Iranian celebrate Yalda night?
I remember as I was growing up in Iran, we would gather around at my grandparents house or my oldest uncle house, the Yalda table was ready upon our arrival full of beautiful and colourful fruits, nuts, home brewed Persian tea, candles and of course big ” Divan Hafez” book. we would chat, play games, drink traditional teas and Persian sweets (baslogh) pictures below! play music and dance during the whole the evening to pass the darkest evening of the year with laughter and joy or simply sit around the table to get ready for our poem’s reading .which would have took a place at the end of the night around middnight.
we would start our poem’s reading rituals one by one, it would start like this; the oldest member of the house who was very good at reading and translating the poems, usually my mum or my uncle would hold the book while you have to close your eyes and say a prayer and make a wish then My mum would open a page or in my case, I always wanted to open my poem’s page while my eyes were closed, the first poem I see is the interpretation of my wish and whether and how it will come true, then my mum would have read it out loud and translate it for me! It was so much fun and I truly miss all my family.
It would continue till every single members of the family have heard their poems.. this was my favourite part of the night and still is, every time I have made a wish, Hafez gave me the right answer through his poems! I know, it might sound bizarre to you but believe me it is very true!
Now that they have passed this tradition to me, I can do it while living in London and gather my friends around to do poem reading for them! picture to come!
The most important fruits of the evening are pomegranate, the jewel of all fruits, and watermelon. Without them, there is no Yalda night. The color of these fruits symbolise the cycle and glow of life.
How I celebrate this night?
When I lived in Iran, every year my family and I were gathering at my grandparents. It was all about eating, drinking and reading Hafez till we passed midnight. From the time I moved to the London, everything has changed. I didn’t know anyone in London to share this Joy with at the beginning but I would still do it alone as I loved it so much, went shopping for my self, bought pomegranate and persimmons and dry mixed nuts, I have brought my hafez book from home, no way I would have left that behind!
eventually I have found some friends who were in the same situation as me. Since then I mostly celebrate Yalda night at home with my loved ones or celebrating outside with friends as London houses too small to fit everyone in one place. tonight however, I am celebrating it at home and my only guest is me!! my loved ones are away so as my friends!! I can tell you one thing though, managed to call my mum and sister and celebrate a bit together over face time!
Yalda night is one of the nights that I miss my family so much. The laughter, the joy and coziness makes this night unforgettable. now this was my table setting tonight and couldn’t find a decent watermelon as it is out of season here!
Now, I am going to make a wish and open the “Divan hafez” to read my poems from the beloved poet of all time!!!
Happy Yalda Night everyone, doesn’t matter if you don’t celebrate it but be aware we are entering winter solstice, set your intentions and write down your manifestation as this is the great time of the year to sit back and gather our thoughts for the new beginning, what is our purpose in this planet? why we are here?
Have a joyful winter season ahead and be mindful.