The story behind Yalda Night
Shab-e-Yalda (Yalda Night), also known as Shab-e Chelleh, is one of the most ancient Persian festivals annually celebrated on December 21 by Iranians all around the world. Yalda is a winter solstice celebration; it marks the end of autumn and the lengthiest night of the year. Since days get longer and nights shorter in winter, Iranians celebrate the last night of autumn as the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness. On Shab-e-Yalda, people gather in groups of friends or families, usually at the home of grandparents or the elderly, to pass the longest night of the year happily by eating nuts and fruits, reading Hafiz poems, making good wishes, talking and laughing all together to give a warm welcome to winter, and a felicitous farewell to autumn.
What is Yalda Night?
Yalda means “birth”, and Yalda night refers to the longest night of the year or winter solstice. Ancient Iranians believed that this night coincides with the birth of Mitra or Mehr, the mythological goddess of light in ancient Persia. Yalda or Chella was inscribed in 2022 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
How and When is Yalda Celebrated in Iran?
On December 21, Iranians start their celebration by eating since it is the most fun and delicious part of Yalda Night. Iranians eat nuts, watermelons, and pomegranates on this special night and share the last remaining fruits from summer together. Fruits of Shab-e-Yalda have symbolic significance as well. Some believe that watermelon symbolizes the sun by its spherical shape, while others believe that eating watermelon keeps one safe from being hurt by winter diseases. Pomegranate is also a symbol of birth, and its bright red seeds symbolize the glow of life.
Reading poems from Divan-e-Hafez (Fal-e Hafez) is an entertaining tradition of Yalda Night. Each family member or a group of friends makes a wish-while keeping it a secret- and randomly opens the book; then, the eldest member of the family or friends reads the randomly selected poem loudly. Since the poem is believed to be the interpretation of the wish and the way it would come true, it is fun to interpret the poetry and guess the wishes others make. In this way, the last and the longest autumn night ends happily, and the first great day of winter begins.
Shab-e-Yalda and its traditions are so amusing and interesting that they were officially added to Iran’s List of National Treasures in 2008. Yalda Night is also celebrated in countries, such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, and some of the Caucasian states such as Azerbaijan and Armenia since they share the same traditions as well.
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What countries celebrate Yalda Night?
Except for Iran, Yalda Nights, or winter solstice, is celebrated in other countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, East Asia, Scotland, Africa, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Russia, with different rituals, foods, and traditions.