Yalda night, the Longest Night Celebrated in Iran
30th of Azar (December 21) with the longest night in the year is celebrated as the Yalda Night (shab-e Yalda) in Iran. It has been a very long time in Iran that people have celebrated the night in family and/or friendly gatherings. Nowadays Yalda Night is of special importance and is celebrated every year. Stay with us so that more information would be provided to you regarding this memorable night.
Traditional Customs of Shab-e Yalda
In general, in this longest night of the year, people pay a visit to older member of families. There, light refreshments (confectionaries and nuts) are served and people spend their time reading poems, telling stories, etc. In the following, we review some of traditions of Yalda in Iran.
Story Telling in Yalda Night
On Yalda Night, older members of families tell some stories for children, mostly fictional, entertaining, and with instructive themes. People in some cities like Khorasan also read Shahnameh (long epic poem written by the great Persian poet Ferdowsi) on this night.
Fortune Telling by Reading Hafez Poems
One of the most popular traditions of Yalda Night is reading Hafez poems as fortune telling verses; a person asks a question in his/her mind and opens the book of Ghazals (poems) of Hafez. The selected poem would be read and interpreted, making it clear for the reader that what would be the answer of the question asked.
Most of Hafez poems give hope to the readers and improve their spirits.
Yalda Table (Sofreh Yalda)
It is of special importance to Iranian people. They put different confections, nuts, watermelon, pomegranate, and some other edibles on the table. Nowadays, adding variety to the table, people also put deserts, cakes, cupcakes, and this sort of foods on the table as well.
Yalda Night Clothes
Many people show tendency toward putting on unique dresses on Yalda. These dresses are mostly in red and green colors, reminding the colors of watermelon.
Gifts for Newly Married Women
In many Iranian cities, people give such gifts as clothes, pastries, fruits, etc. to newly married women. However, in some cities these are grooms who receive these kinds of gifts.
There are different forms of gifts presented in different cities. For example, in Gilan Province, in addition to fruits, confections, and edibles, a big raw whitefish would be decorated by vegetables and presented to the bride. They believe that these gifts bring blessing to bride and groom’s lives as well as health and fertility for the newly married woman.
Yalda Night poetry
The night is so important that many poems have been, and still are, versified about it in Iran. This is called Yalda Night Poetry.
- Mohtasham Kashani:
There is no sign of dawn, ending my Yalda Night filled with sorrow;
If there would be no dawn at all, how could I end to all my cries through the night?
- Saeb Tabrizi:
Our words of complaint are more elegant than those of people stricken with grieve!
Like the Yalda Night among all other nights of the year!
Why Yalda Night is celebrated?
If you are interested in knowing the basic reason for celebrating Yalda, there are two stories in this respect which are narrated below.
First Version: Triumph of Light over Darkness
People in the past were mostly peasants, and change of climate was highly effective on their lives. This is why much attention has been paid by them to the changes of night and day duration. Sunrise during the day and daylight have always been of very good effect on agriculture and preferred by people, compared with the night. This is why longer days have been more precious for the people. On the contrary, people did not like the nights being longer than days. So, Yalda promising the end of long nights and the days to grow longer has been celebrated by them.
Second Version: Celebrating the Birth of Mehr (Mithra, Goddess of Light) and First Creation
Mithraism (Mehr) was the common religion in Iran before Zoroastrianism. Mithra, in ancient indo-Iranian mythology, the goddess of light, represents love. The outward symbol of Mithra is the sun.
Some people believe in Yalda as the night on which Mithra (god of the light) has been born, resulting in sunrise; some other people believe that on this night, Mithra comes back to the world and makes days to grow longer.
Yalda Night in Different Iranian Cities
Yalda Night is celebrated differently in different cities. In the following, some traditions in various cities will be mentioned.
Yalda Night in Kurdistan Province
From ancient times, guests at Yalda have been served with Dolmeh (stuffed dish) and Sangak flatbread in Sanandaj. The tradition is still practiced in the province.
Yalda Night in Golestan Province
In Golestan, people narrate short stories for each other (Naghl Andazi). Fruits consumed by people in this province is mostly those growing in forest like: orange, lemon, valik, and kondos (wild medlars).
Yalda Night in Lorestan Province
In Lorestan, people eat a combination of roasted wheat, hemp seeds, sesame, and walnut. Among other edibles consumed at Yalda is wheat mixed with Shireh (grape syrup). It is prepared through soaking wheat in grape syrup and adding turmeric and salt to it.
Yalda Night in Qazvin Province
In Qazvin province, people go to visit older people and take dried and red-colored fruits for them. For dinner, people in Qazvin eat Sabzi Polo and Mahi Doodi (smoky fish). Then, passing the long night till after midnight together, they eat nuts, dried fig, walnut, watermelon or sunflower seeds, watermelon, etc.
Yalda Night in South Khorasan Province
A different ceremony here is Kaf-Zadan, during which they soak roots of a soap plant in water and after boiling, it will be poured into a fictile utensil called Taghar, then it will be stirred with a bunch of thin branches of pomegranate tree till foam would be created over it. Finally, the foam would be mixed with sugar syrup and decorated with walnut, serving the guests with it.
It does not matter in what region of Iran you are living celebrating Yalda Night and congratulating the night to friends and family members is important. Having a long history, this memorable night is the reason for gathering together and avoiding being alone. The loneliness caused by living in society with its current status.