On the days that Zoroastrianism was the official religion in Iran on the last night of autumn people would stay at a cave and watch the sunrise, the birth of Mithra, on the next morning. Today after thousands of years people do not celebrate this night as the same manner they did in the days of Zoroaster. Today the name of Yalda reminds people that on this important night of the year they must gather up and enjoy each other’s company on the longest night of the year. At this night Iranians believe that the best way to appreciate the extra minutes to enjoy the company of the family and loved ones.
Yalda is the thanksgiving night for Iranians. Everyone gathers in the grandparents’ house and they say praying to thank the lord for the previous year’s blessings and to increase the next year’s health, wealth, and joy. Staying up till dawn to celebrate this night and reading the poems of Divan-e Hafez is the tradition for celebrating Yalda. On Yalda our ancestors lit fire for extra lightening to help the dawn to overcome this longest darkness.
People of Tonekabon, one of the Northern cities of Iran, believe that they must have 40 different snacks for the night. In Khorasan people make a sweet called Kaf at this night through a very happy ceremony called Kafzani.
Like any other celebrations Yalda has its own food and snacks and every item has found its way on the table for a good reason. Pomegranate, one of the main fruits of the night protects us from the evil spirits which are at their peaks on this longest darkness of the year. The delightful taste of pomegranates with angelic powder can truly give you the super power to overcome the Ahreman (enemy in Farsi)!
You will see watermelon and mixed nuts on the table for sure. In the past years that fruits were available on the season only the host, usually the oldest in the family, would carefully save grapes and watermelons for the upcoming Yalda. Eating the mixed nuts will bring days full of prosperity and watermelon and yogurt will save you from the hot days of the summer days.
There is a tradition similar to the “trick or treat” on Halloween night. The bachelorettes cover up their faces, so they couldn’t be recognized, and they knock on the neighbor’s door and ask for a treat. If seven houses did not recognize young girls whatever they wished for will be granted.
In Persian literature Yalda night has been associated with loneliness and the long wait to meet the loved one as Sa’adi says:
‘The sight of you each morning is a New Year Any night of your departure is the eve of Yalda’