Yalda Night; An Iranian Celebration of the First Night of Winter
Yalda Night or Chelle Night or in the original Persian, Shab-e Yalda, is one of the old celebrations of Iranian people such as Chaharshanbe Suri or Nowrouz. Yalda Night can be considered as a remainder of Iranians’ ancient culture.
What and when is Yalda Night?
As already mentioned, Yalda Night is an ancient celebration and Iranians have been celebrating this night, which is the last night of autumn and the first night of winter, by gathering together and having fun. The last night of autumn which coincides with the first night of winter, aka Yalda Night, is the longest night of the year since it is one minute longer than the other ones. Iranians’ ancestors have been celebrating Yalda Night for centuries and they have left some traditions for people which we will talk about. Yalda Night and all these traditions occur on 21st of December and on the leap years, on December 20th. If you really are interested in getting to know Iranians’ traditions on Yalda Night, you can ask us to arrange your Tailor-made tours or customizable Classical Cultural tours in a way that will coincide with this magical night.
How old is Yalda Night?
Yalda, which also is a name for girls in Iran, means ‘Birth’. The history of this ancient celebration dates back to thousands of years ago which is not completely identified. Some archeologists believe that the tradition of celebrating Yalda Night is 7000 years old according to the discoveries from the inscriptions. All this being said, Yalda Night entered the Iranian calendar on the year 500 BC. during Dariush the First’s period.
Why do Iranians celebrate Yalda Night?
There are diverse reasons and tales explaining why Iranians take Yalda Night into account and why they love it so much.
The first tale relates to the victory of light over darkness. In the old days, through time, people had understood the impact of seasons and the length of day and night on their agriculture. They were convinced that day, light and sun were the symbols of goodness and kindness as opposed to night, darkness and coldness that were symbols of evil. Therefore, they believed that longer days meant light was winning the battle and shorter days were a sign that darkness was defeating the good. So, they celebrated the longest night of the year, aka Yalda Night, since after this night, days become longer, which means light has taken the power.
The second tale that can be considered as the origin of this festival is the fact that ancient Christians, who lived in Iran before Zoroastrians, celebrated Yalda Night since they believed it was the birthday of Mithra, who was the goddess of light in Iranian and Indian culture. They believed that on this magical night, the goddess of light known as Mithra or Mehr appeared and brought the sun and light with herself.
What do Iranians do on Yalda Night? What are their customs?
Iranian people have always loved this night and celebrating it has always been one of the most irresistible activities of the year for them. They gather together, usually in homes of their grandparents or elderly people of the family. They eat delicious, special food and fruits of the occasion, they dance and play games, they read poems, especially Hafez poems (Divan-e Hafez) and Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh and they laugh and have fun.
Eating watermelon, pomegranate and nuts is kind of a necessity on Yalda Night. Iranians tend to have colorful, delicious and beautiful tables ready for their guests to enjoy alongside them.
The color red, wearing red clothes and having red-based tables is also a tradition they love to be faithful to. Maybe the reason why Iranians eat the two fruits that are red comes from this custom, as well.
Reading the Divan of Hafez and placing this beloved book in the middle of the table is a tradition Iranians never stop doing. This custom goes like this; a person makes a wish and does not tell anyone about it. Then another one opens the book of poems and randomly chooses one poem and reads it out loud. The interpretation and analysis of the selected poem is called “Fal” in Persian and is an old activity Iranians tend to do on Yalda Night. The interpretation can, in some cases, relate to the wish they had in their mind.
Moreover, it is worth mentioning that since Iran has so many tribes, it is likely that each tribe living in different parts of the country has its own traditions aside from the national ones we just discussed. Therefore, in case you attended our Iran nomad tour or any other tour exploring different parts of Iran and you saw other traditions, do not be shocked.
Furthermore, another custom on Yalda Night relates to men and women who are engaged to each other. According to this tradition, the groom-to-be and his family have to buy some gifts and pastries and go to the bride’s family’s house and give it to them as a present showing their love and respect.
All in all, nowadays, Yalda Night has become an important festival Iranians love and respect and is also an excuse to spend time with the loved ones while having fun and making core memories, especially for children.
There are a lot of reasons to travel to Iran, and over the past few years observing Yalda Night’s celebration has become another reason for some people to travel to Iran. Do not forget that Yalda Night is usually on 21st of December so, in case you decide to visit Persia on Yalda Night, this is the time for you.
Which countries celebrate Yalda Night?
A Fun fact about Yalda Night is that people in Iran are not the only ones celebrating it. Apart from the Iranian people who live outside Iran all across the planet, other Asian people in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and some parts of Armenia, India and Russia celebrate Yalda Night with a little bit of difference in culture and customs, as well.