Happy Yaldā Night
Yaldā Night (Persian: شب یلدا shab-e yalda) or Chelleh Night
Yaldā means birth and is an ancient Persian festival that celebrates the rebirth of light, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness, the good winning over the evil, the time when the sun god (Shamash, in the ancient language) is reborn after losing all it’s might to the moon goddess (Inanna). This annual event predates history and has been celebrated since the times when Mithraism was the common religion in the east and the west and Inanna (Ishtar) was revered as the goddess of love and birth and the saviour of all living (animals and humans).
For thousands of years, Yalda has been celebrated during the last night of autumn of the Iranian civil calendar (the night of December 20/21) which is the "longest and darkest night of the year", the winter solistice in the northern hemisphere. In the ancient traditions of Mithraism, and later Zoroastrian, Yalda was originally intended to protect people from evil during that long night (Divs, demons, divinities that promoted chaos and disorder and were the personification of every imaginable evil). The longest night of the year, Yalda, would be the time when the evil forces of Ahriman (Angra Mainyu – sounds perfectly like The Angry Mind, devils, demons) were imagined to be at their peak of activity. To stay away from the demons’ harm, people were advised to stay awake through the night, lest misfortune should befall on them. People would therefore gather in the safety of groups of friends and relatives. In effect, they would spend time together as a means to staying safe and passing the longest night together in good company, while staying merry by telling jokes and happy stories to keep the Angry Mind, the evil, away. The next day (the first day of the month of Dey) would then be the day of victory, celebration of their winning over the evil, surviving the longest night. Nowadays, although the traditional fear and significance of the long dark night has waned, the ancient tradition of staying up late in the company of friends and family is retained in the Iranian culture to the present day.
Like most ancient traditions, there is a lot of symbolism involved in what people do during Yalda. Even today, Iranians gather together with friends and family to eat, drink and read poetry well after midnight and share the last fruits remaining or preserved from summer. All sorts of dried fruits, nuts, pomegranates and watermelons which keep well for longer without the need for drying or preserving are particularly significant and each symbolise certain meanings. Dried fruits represent continuation of life. Nuts are hard to break but nutritious, hence symbolise hardships we go through in life, yet nurture our soul. Pomegranates (The Fruit of the Tree of Life) symbolise life and wisdom, each seed resembling a ruby, a jewel, a piece of knowledge, packed together for protection, to form wisdom. The red colour in these fruits symbolises the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life. After dinner the older individuals entertain others by telling happy tales of wisdom and anecdotes. Prior to the invention of electricity, decorating and lighting the house and yard with candles was also part of the tradition, again, fire and candles symbolised life and protection against darkness, against the evil. Today, not many continue this particular component of the tradition, but telling happy stories of wisdom, jokes, reading poetry together, and playing music remain integral to the celebration.
Photo 1: Courtesy of Tehran Times