Shab-e Yalda (Yalda’s night) or Shab-e Chelle is the Iranians’ way to confront the coldest season of the year. This Iranian festival, which is celebrated every year on the night of December 20/21 (±1) in the Gregorian calendar, has a very long history and is among the most important Iranian festivals and ceremonies.
The history of Shab-e Yalda dates back to Zoroastrian tradition when the darkest and longest night of the year was considered an unfavorable date and so, people needed to protect themselves from evil. And, what a way better than gathering together and spend this longest night with your loved ones?
Some estimate the antiquity of this ceremony to be more than 7000 years. However, Shab-e Yalda was officially introduced into the ancient Iranian calendar in the year 502 BC by Darius I. Yalda is derived from a word in Syriac language meaning “Birth”. It is quite an ironic name for a date when darkness dominates the night longer than any night in the year, but it is full of hope and meaning at the same time. In fact, people of ancient times, including Aryan tribes from India and Iran, India and Europe, realized that the shortest days are the last days of autumn and immediately after the first night of winter the days gradually get longer and the nights shorter, so they called this night the birth of the Sun (Mehr) and considered it as the beginning of the year. Some believe that Christian Christmas also has its roots in this belief.
Apart from its long history and interesting background, Shab-e Yalda is a beautiful ceremony that can be applied in today’s context as well. Ceremonies and rituals have been a part of people’s lives since the beginning, so preserving and practicing them can bring us some kind of meaning and connection to nature and major concepts of life. If you are interested in celebrating the longest night of the year, there are some principals you should follow so you are able to celebrate it just as Iranians do! Do you want to know what are those principles? If yes, continue reading!
Delicious Food, Essential Part of Yalda Night!
The first principle is to eat as much as you can! Well, it may sound like a joke, but it is somehow true. You are going to stay awake until after midnight, talking, chatting and making the night “longer”. So, you need plenty of delicious food and goodies to entertain yourself! Apart from sweets and pastries, fruits and nuts are eaten on this night as well.
Among fruits, pomegranates and watermelons are particularly important. You can’t celebrate a real Yalda without eating these 2 fruits. In a very traditional version, all these items and more are placed on a korsi (a type of low table found in Iran, with a heater underneath it which people sit around). In some areas, it is custom that forty varieties of edibles should be served during the ceremony of the Yalda night! So, prepare a great dinner and the most delicious things for the longest night of the year!
Use red colors and candles as much as you can! The red color (which also exists in watermelon and pomegranate) symbolizes crimson hues of dawn and glow of life. The warmth of this color brings passion and life to our cold, long night. So, it is vital to design your table using this vivid color. Candles are also important, as they bring light to our long night.
Get a Hafez book, as it is one of the most important parts of a real Yalda in Iran. Almost every family in Iran has at least one “Divan-e Hafez” if doesn’t have 3 or 4! What you should do is make a “Fal” with this book. Fal is consulting with the bok, doing a kind of divination with the odes of Hafez. What you need to do is to make a wish or ask a question about your current life/love situation in your heart and ask for help and consultation of Hafez. When you open the Divan (the Hafez’s poems book) randomly, the poem that appears would be his answer to your question.
Of course, you need a book with the translations included or an Iranian person next to you who can read and interpret it for you! Normally the eldest member of the family (like a grandparent) opens the book for each family member and reads the poem. It is actually an entertaining process because some find Hafez’s answers very accurate and relate to it very well. So, if you are thinking of celebrating Yalda along with Iranians, get your Hafez book as soon as possible!