We celebrate the arrival of Winter with the Yalda festival in Iran, Yalda (”the night of Chelleh”) is an ancient and uniquely Iranian festival celebrated on the longest and darkest night of the year. Yalda comes from the Zoroastrian tradition and means birth, and renewal of the sun and victory of light over darkness.
Most of the time, Watermelon and pomegranates are consumed more than every other fruits. Some believe if you eat watermelon at Yalda, you won’t be hurt by the diseases and coldness of the coming winter. Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life, the rebirth and revival of generations.
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.
It’s a night that we take out the poetry book of Hafez and recite from it. Those who are familiar with Hafiz’s poetry know that there’s not a single translation that can capture its true meaning and essence. With that said, here’s a translation of a verse by Hafez, one of the greatest Persian poets of all time.
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.
Yalda is no more a religious ceremony after all. It is rather a cultural blend, a combination of Iranian rich heritage pre and post Islam. In Yalda, the longest night of the year, friends and family gather together for apparently just one minute longer than the previous night to appreciate God for today’s blessing and to pray for tomorrow’s prosperity.