These days, Christian countries around the world are getting ready for Christmas. All streets, stores and houses are decorated with lights for this festive season. You hear Christmas songs everywhere and some people even wear Christmas jumpers. For Iranians, all around the world, it’s different, because they are getting ready for one of their most important nights of the year: Yalda night or Shab e Chelleh. The majority of Iranians don’t celebrate Christmas, of course we do have Armenian communities and other Christian communities who do celebrate Christmas in Iran. I think Yalda is much more highlighted than Christmas in the streets of Iran. Let me explain to you what Yalda night is.
What is Yalda night?
Yalda means birth. Yalda night is a beautiful ancient Iranian celebration. Iranians are celebrating the longest and darkest night of the year or winter solstice. This night is on 20 to 21 December according to the Georgian calendar. I should add here that we in Iran use a different calendar, the Iranian calendar. According to this calender, Yalda night is the last evening of the autumn day or “the night opening the initial forty-day period of the three-month winter”.
Let me go back to the reasons why we celebrate Yalda night
This celebration is coming from the time when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism prior to the advent of Islam. 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.
This night has been used in many Iranian poems to describe a dark night in which one gets separated from a loved one, creating loneliness and waiting. Other countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan are also celebrating this night.
How does Iranian celebrate Yalda night?
In the Zoroastrian era, people were advised to stay awake for most of the night, to prevent any bad luck from happening. People had to 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.
This same culture still exist. Every Yalda night people are gathering with their loved ones. They would especially go to their grandparents’ house. Eat, drink and read poetry(Hafez) during the whole the evening to pass the darkest evening of the year with laughter and joy. Iranians believe those who begin winter by eating summer fruits would not fall ill during the cold season. Honestly this evening is filled with different type of food. Gaining weight is very common in that evening!
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. These days you can find everything in the shape and color of these fruit such as cake, cupcakes or even in home accessories.
As I mentioned, during this night people also read Hafez poetry. You probably wonder why Hafez? Iranians believe in Hafez as much as believing in God. People make a wish, open a book of Hafez and the first poem they see is the interpretation of the wish and whether and how it will come true.
So in Yalda night 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.
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 Netherlands, everything changed. The first two years I spent alone with my husband because I had no one to share this joy ( it is nice to spent this night with a group) . But luckily I found Iranian friends who were in the same situation as me. Since then I mostly celebrate Yalda night with them. We come together and we do the same things that we used to do in Iran with our families. Yalda night is one of the nights that I miss my family so much. The laughter, the joy and coziness makes this night unforgettable.