Dec 21 – The last night of the fall, the winter solstice, is celebrated in the Iranian culture. It occurs on December 21 or 22. In Iran this night is called Shab-e Yalda (Yalda Night), which refers to the rebirth of the sun.
Yalda is the longest night of the year. Ancient Iranians believed that at the end of this longest night, which they believed was evil, darkness was defeated by light (Sun) allowing the days to become longer. This celebration comes at the beginning of the Iranian month of Dey.
The birth of the sun and beginning of the winter has become the beginning of the year and source of celebration in many cultures and traditions. Early Christians related this very ancient Persian celebration to Mithra, goddess of light, and linked it to Christ’s birthday. Today, the date for Christmas is slightly off from Yalda, but they are celebrated in many similar ways, staying up all night, gatherings with family and friends, lighting candles, and eating special foods.
Coinciding with the very beginning of winter, Yalda is also an occasion to celebrate the end of the harvest of the previous year and to wish and pray for the prosperity of the next year’s harvest.
Yalda is also an occasion for families and extended family members to get together. They gather at the house of the eldest member of the family.They sit around ‘korsi’ (a low, square table, covered with a thick blanket hanging over the table on all side s. A container with hot coals is placed under the table to keep everyone warm.) All night the family and friends sit on cushions around the korsi with the blanket over their laps. They set colorful dishes of fruits, nuts, and sweets on the korsi, chat, tell jokes and stories, sing and recite poetry.
Long into the Yalda Night, the family keeps the fire under the korsi burning and the lights on to help the sun in its battle against darkness and its rebirth in the morning.
One of the traditions of Yalda is reciting the poetry by Hafez, the 14th century Iranian poet. Most of the elements of Yalda festivities have roots from thousands of years ago; however, the recitation of Hafez poems has been added in recent centuries. Each member of the family makes a wish and randomly opens the Divan of Hafez to one of its pages and usually the eldest member of the family recites the poem on that page. What is expressed in that poem is believed to be the interpretation of the wisher’s wish and whether and how it will come true. This tradition is called fal-e Hafez.
The 13th century Iranian poet Sa’di wrote in his Bustan:
‘The true morning will not come until the Yalda Night is gone.’