Note: what you see is what I have found
interesting about Yalda's night on the internet. the source of each section is
at the end of that part.
Night of the Fortieth)
1) Yalda, a Syriac word imported into the Persian
language by the Syriac Christians means birth (tavalud and melaad are from the
same origin). It is a relatively recent arrival and it was very likely refereed
to the birth of Jesus Christ (Melaad e Massih) in the past. It is used
interchangeably with ‘Shab e Cheleh’, a Zoroastrian celebration of
Winter Solstice around December 21st. Forty days before the next
Persian festival ‘Jashn e Sadeh’: this night has been celebrated in
countless cultures for thousands of years. The ancient Roman festivals of
Saturnalia (God of Agriculture, Saturn) and Sol Invicta (Sun God) are amongst
the best known in the Western world.
In most ancient cultures, including Persia, the
start of the solar year has been marked to celebrate the victory of light over
darkness and the renewal of the Sun. For instance, Egyptians, four thousand
years ago celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of the year. They set
the length of the festival at 12 days, to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun
calendar. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol
of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month.
The Persians adopted their annual renewal
festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their own
Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month Azar is the longest
night of the year, when the forces of Ahriman are assumed to be at the peak of
their strength. While the next day, the first day of the month ‘Day’ known
as ‘khoram rooz’ or ‘khore rooz’ (the day of sun) belongs to Ahura
Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Since the days are getting longer and the nights
shorter, this day marks the victory of Sun over the darkness. The occasion was
celebrated in the festival of ‘Daygan’ dedicated to Ahura Mazda, on the
first day of the month ‘Day’.
Fires would be burnt all night to ensure the
defeat of the forces of Ahriman. There were feasts, acts of charity and a number
of deities were honored and prayers performed to ensure the total victory of sun
that was essential for the protection of winter crops. There would be prayers to
Mithra (Mihr) and feasts in his honor, since Mithra is the Eyzad responsible for
protecting ‘the light of the early morning’, known as ‘Havangah’. It was
also assumed that Ahura Mazda would grant people’s wishes, specially those
with no offspring had the hope to be blessed with children if performed all
rites on this occasion.
One of the themes of the festival was the
temporary subversion of order. Masters and servants reversed roles. The king
dressed in white would change place with ordinary people. A mock king was
crowned and masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of
ordinary living were relaxed. This tradition persisted till Sassanian period,
and is mentioned by Biruni and others in their recordings of pre-Islamic rituals
and festivals. Its’ origin goes back to the Babylonian New Year celebration.
These people believed the first creation was
order that came out of chaos. To appreciate and celebrate the first creation
they had a festival and all roles were reversed. Disorder and chaos ruled for a
while and eventually order was restored and succeeded at the end of the
The Egyptian and Persian traditions merged in
ancient Rome, in a festival to the ancient god of seedtime, Saturn. The Romans
exchanged gifts, partied and decorated their homes with greenery. Following the
Persian tradition, the usual order of the year was suspended. Grudges and
quarrels were forgotten, wars were interrupted or postponed. Businesses, courts
and schools were closed. Rich and poor became equal, masters served slaves, and
children headed the family. Cross-dressing and masquerades, merriment of all
kinds prevailed. A mock king, the Lord of Misrule, was crowned. Candles and
lamps chased away the spirits of darkness.
Another related Roman festival celebrated at
the same time was dedicated to Sol Invictus ("the invincible sun").
Originally a Syrian deity, the Roman Emperor Heliogabalus imported the cult in
to Rome and Sol was made god of the state. With the spread of Christianity,
Christmas celebration became the most important Christian festival. In the third
century Christians celebrated various dates, from December to April for
Christmas. January 6 was the most favored day because it was thought to be
Jesus’ Baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the
day to celebrate Christmas). In year 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and
gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which
coincided, with Winter Solstice and the festivals, Sol Invicta and Saturnalia.
Many of the rituals and traditions of the pagan festivals were incorporated into
the Christmas celebration and are still observed today.
It is not clear when and how the world
‘Yalda’ entered the Persian language. Iran had a large Christian population.
Territories like Armenia that was part of the Persian Empire for centuries were
entirely Christian along with other border countries and parts of Byzantine City
States continuously changing hands between Persia and Anatolia. The massive
persecution of the early Christians in Rome and the later sectarian wars between
different Christian sects during the Byzantium era brought many Christian
refugees into the Sassanid Empire and it is very likely that these Christians
introduced and popularized ‘Yalda’ in Iran. Yalda was their celebration of
Christmas. Gradually ‘Shab e Yalda’ and ‘Shab e Cheleh’ became
synonymous and the two are used interchangeably.
With the conquest of Islam the religious
significance of both Christmas and the ancient Persian festival was lost. Today
‘Shab e Cheleh’ is merely a social occasion, when family and friends get
together for fun and merriment. Different kinds of dried fruits, nuts, seeds and
fresh winter fruits are consumed. The presence of dried and fresh fruits is
reminiscence of the ancient feasts to celebrate and pray to the deities to
ensure the protection of the winter crops. Medieval poetry from Hafez is read
and fortunes are sought through the interpretation of his poems. This extremely
popular poet lived in the 14th
century, his poetry is found in almost every household. It is a tradition to
make a wish, then open a page randomly and start reading the first poem on that
Interpretations of the poem are used to decide
whether the wish will come true or not. Before the coming of TV and other mass
media it was customary for the grandparents to tell popular old stories to their
grandchildren on this night.
Family members gathered around and under a
uniquely designed short wooden table covered with large quilts and blankets. A
small charcoal fire was prepared in a fire resistant open container with ashes
on top to regulate and control the burning charcoal. This was placed under the
table and all members would curl under, kept warm even ate and slept there. The
table is called ‘corsi’ and was very popular till recently. Electricity and
more efficient heating systems have eliminated corsi as a heating alternative.
However many traditional families still use modern electrical versions of it
and the tradition is kept alive. Curling under
corsi, listening to grandparents telling ancient and magical stories eating
fruits, nuts etc. is associated with shab e cheleh and was part of every
Iranian’s growing up memories till recently.
The Iranian Jews, who are amongst the oldest
inhabitants of the country, in addition to ‘Shab e Cheleh’, also celebrate
the festival of ‘Illanout’ (tree festival) at around the same time. Their
celebration of Illanout is very similar to Shab e Cheleh celebration. Candles
are lit; all varieties of dried and fresh winter fruits will have to be present.
Special meals are prepared and prayers are performed.
There are also very similar festivals in many
parts of Southern Russia that are identical to ‘Shab e Cheleh’ festival with
local variations. Sweet breads are baked in shape of humans and animals. Bon
fires are made; dances are performed that resemble crop harvesting. Comparison
and detailed studies of all these celebrations no doubt will shed more light on
the forgotten aspects of this wonderful and ancient festival, where merriment
was the main theme of the festival.
Winter Feast: SHAB-E YALDAA: In
the east more than in the west, life-styles have
often remained more in tune with nature.
Therefore, natural rhythms change from morning to
evening, from month to month, and finally from
season to season. This integration of nature into
life cycles is especially true in Iran. The winter
solstice, December 21 or 22, is the longest night
of the year. In Iran this night is called SHAB-E
YALDAA, which refers to the birthday or rebirth of
the sun. The ceremony is traced to the primal
concept of Light and Good against Darkness and
Evil in the ancient Iranian religion. This night
with Evil as its zenith is considered unlucky.
From this day forward, Light triumphs as the days
grow longer and give more light. This celebration
comes in the Persian month of DAY, which was also
the name of the pre-Zoroastrian creator god
(deity). Later he became known as the God of
creation and Light, from which we have the English
word "day" (the period of light in 24
In the evening of SHAB-E YALDAA bonfires are lit outside, while inside family
and friends gather in a night-long vigil around the KORSEE, a low, square table
covered with a thick cloth overhanging on all sides. A brazier with hot coals is
placed under the table. All night the family and friends sit on large cushions
(futons) around the KORSEE with the cloth over their laps. Formerly fruit and
vegetables were only available in season and the host, usually the oldest in the
family, would carefully save grapes, honeydew melons, watermelons, pears,
oranges, tangerines, apples and cucumbers. These were then enjoyed by everyone
gathered around the KORSEE, or a fireplace.
On this winter night, the oldest member of the family says prayers, thanks
God for the previous year's crops, and prays for the prosperity of next year's
harvest. Then with a sharp knife, he cuts the thick yogurt, the melon, and the
watermelon and gives everyone a share. The cutting symbolizes the removal of
sickness and pain from the family. Snacks are passed around through the night:
pomegranates with angelica powder (GOLPAR) and AJEEL_E SHABCHAAREH or AJEEL-E
SHAB_E YALDAA, a combination of nuts and dried fruits. Eating nuts is said to
lead to prosperity in days to come. More substantial fare for the night's feast
include eggplant stew with plain saffron-flavored rice; and rice with chicken;
thick yogurt, saffron, and carrot brownies (HALVAA-E HAVEEJ). The foods
themselves symbolize the balance of the seasons; watermelons and yogurt are
eaten as a remedy for the heat of the summer, since these fruits are considered
cold or SARDEE, and HALVAA, the saffron and carrot brownies, is eaten to
overcome the cold temperatures of winter (since they are considered hot or
GARMEE). On into the night of festivities, the family keeps the fires burning
and the lights glowing to help the sun in its battle against darkness.
Early Christians took this very ancient Persian celebration to
Mitra, Godess of Light, and linked it to Christ's birthday. Today the dates for
Christmas are slightly changed but there are many similarities; lighting
candles, decorating trees with lights, staying up all night, singing and
dancing, eating special foods, paying visits, and finally, celebrating this
longest night of the year with family and friends.
3)Yalda: While the
Christians all over the world are preparing themselves for celebrating one of
the most widespread ceremonies of mankind, that is Christmas, the Iranians in
Iran and outside are getting ready to celebrate one of their most ancient
celebrations, yalda. Is it a mere coincidence that these two celebration are so
close to each other, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. the 25th. and yaldA is
celebrated on the night of Dec. the 21th. the night before the first day of
winter?! well I have found something on this subject. My reference in what
follows is gAhshomAri va jashnhAy-e irAn-e bAstAn written by Mr. hAshem razi,
and published in iran.
Yalda and its related ceremonies which are held at the night of the first day
of winter; the longest night of the year; is a very ancient tradition, and is
related to Mehr Yazat. Yalda is an Aryan ceremony and the followers of MithrAism
have celebrated it for thousands of years in Iran. Yalda is the night of Mehr or
Yalda is also called Chelleh (Shab-e Chelleh) and as mentioned earlier is the
night of birth of the unconquerable sun, or Mehr. This ceremony is as ancient as
the time that people organized their lives based on seasonal changes.
Light, day and sunshine were assumed to be the signs of order and ahurAic
whereas night, darkness and cold were thought as to be ahriman's sign. Watching
the changes in the length of days and nights, made the people believe that light
and darkness, or day and night are in continuous battle. Light's victory
resulted in longer days whereas darkness's victory meant longer nights.
Since the first night of winter is the longest night and from that night on
the days get longer and the warmth and light of the sun increases, that night
was supposed to be will go the time for the re-birth of sun. The Aryan tribes,
in India, Iran and Europe celebrated sun's birth at the beginning of winter.
To remain safe of ahriman's harms, people gathered on this night and made
fire, and arranged a special setting on which any fresh fruit which was
preserved and also all the dry fruits were put. This setting was sacred and
religious. They asked sun yazat to bless them. The fruits resembled people's
hope for a fruitful spring and summer. They spent all the night together beside
the fire to get rid of ahriman's harm.
When mithrAism spread to ancient civilized world from Iran, in Rome and many
European countries, the 21th. of December which is the day before the beginning
day of Iranian month day or the first month of winter, was celebrated as
mithrA's birthday. But in the 4th. century A.D., because of some errors in
counting the leap year, the birth day of mithrA shifted to 25th. of December and
was established. Until that time the birthday of Jesus Christ was celebrated in
January the 6th. But the religion of most of the Romans and the people of many
of the European countries was still mithrAism. But when Christianity spread, the
priests, since could not stop the practice of celebrating _mithrA_'s birthday on
December the 25th. declared this day as Jesus's birthday which is still so.
Yalda is a soriAni word meaning birth. The Roman used the word nAtAlis for
birth. The soriAni Christians brought the word Yalda to Iran, which is still
used. It is not just mithrA's birth time which entered Christianity. Nowadays
all Christians who celebrate Jesus's birthday, do not sleep for the whole
longest night of the year, eat and drink and have fun.
There are so many common believes and customs (sometimes hidden from our
notice!!) between different nations and religions. Let's know those customs and
talk about them, so that we may bring friendship and peace among the people of
the world. Zoroastrianism and Iranian culture is so ancient that it has many
similarities (and of course differences!!) with most of the great faiths of the
world. Let us emphasize on the similarities and not on the differences
Extracted from: http://www.payk.net/culture/shabeYalda/
Ajil Moshkel Gosha:
whole raw almonds
Salted and roasted Chick-pea (nokhod-chi)
golden raisins (kesh-mesh sabz)
whole raw hazelnut
And watermelone and pomogrante on the side!
Translated from: http://www.tierrechts.net/vegan_persian_cooking.htm
A vendor in
Tehran is making a sale during Yalda,
an ancient feast that celebrates the
winter solstice. Watermelon is
to Shadi's peace page