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Yaldā Night - Winter Solstice Festivals (Part 2)

Iran has been in the global spotlight recently. The revolution came as a result of women standing up against oppressive rules concerning the way they have to dress. We wish everyone in Iran health and success in their struggle.

Today we won't focus on current events. Let's instead cast our minds back to 502 BCE, before the time of Darius the Great. Before Islam, before Zoroastrianism even, there was Yaldā Night.

Yaldā Night / Shab-e Chelleh

Yaldā Night is a festival still celebrated by the descendants of ancient Persia. The festival takes place on the winter solstice, 21 December. According to myth, Yaldā Night is when Ahuramazda, god of light, virtue, and existence, turns the tide in his eternal battle with Ahriman, god of dark, evil, and non-existence.

The short, dark days of winter give way to the longer, brighter days of summer. During the longest night, winter solstice, people would gather together in family groups. They did this to avoid the spirit of darkness, Ahriman, who was said to be at the peak of his power.

Gradually, the people of Persia developed traditions to help stay awake on Yaldā Night. They would all gather at the home of the eldest member of their family. Here they snack on fruit, nuts, and other treats while reciting poetry.

Food carries special symbolism during Yaldā Night. Different food will offer different blessings that will carry into the year to come. Watermelon, for instance, can protect you from heat and disease during the summer. Garlic protects against joint pain. Red fruit, like pomegranates, represents the red glow of the dawn, thus protecting from the evil spirits of the night.

The poetry of Hafiz is a favorite during this time. Hafiz's poetry is thought by some to have prophetic magic woven in. Should you wish to see beyond the veil of the present, you touch the book and make a wish. Your family has a dedicated reader, who then opens the book on a random page, reads the poem, and interprets it for you.

Drinking alcohol is banned in Iran, but the festival of Yaldā Night used to also be a time for red wine. People tell stories, jokes, and some may even dance if the mood strikes them.

What's in a Name?

Yaldā, comes from the Syriac -speaking Christians who settled in Sassanid, and Arsacid territories during the 1st-3rd centuries. They were fleeing religious persecution, and found protection there.

This migrant influx brought the local people into contact with Nestorian Christian traditions. Mixing between the Christian Yaldā festival and the Persian Shab-e Chelleh festival has led to the two terms being synonymous.

Shab-e Chelleh/Yaldā Night marks the beginning of the first of two 40-day periods of winter.

In conclusion, we here at Wolfenhaas wish for the safety and health of the Iranian people. May they have a blessed and safe Yaldā Night, and emerge free from the darkness that plagues them, when the dawn comes.