The night of Yalda or the first night of winter, is the longest night of the year. From this night, the days become longer and the weather begins to warm up. It is for this reason that the ancient Iranians called the first night of winter "the night of the light" or "the night of the birth of the sun", which was the occasion of great festivities.

The night of Yalda or the first night of winter, is the longest night of the year. From this night, the days become longer and the weather begins to warm up. It is for this reason that the ancient Iranians called the first night of winter "the night of the light" or "the night of the birth of the sun", which was the occasion of great festivities.

In the Iranian calendar, this holiday takes place in Dey (that is to say in December), according to the name given to the Creator before Zoroastrianism. The Yalda night festivals have their roots in ancient traditions dating back thousands of years and in the worship of Mitra. Yalda would thus be the day of the birth of Mitra or the sun. Sunlight and daylight were considered to be the manifestation of a creator god while darkness, night and cold were the symbol of Arihman, god of darkness. The cycle of days and nights had led people to believe that these two elements were continually at war. The longest days were then regarded as the days of the victory of light, and the shortest days were the sign of the victory of darkness. To protect themselves from Ahriman, people would gather during the night and light a fire to ask for help from the sun. Yalda is, in a way, the celebration of the sun and the end of the domination of darkness and cold.

During this night of Yalda, it is customary to eat dried and salted seeds, watermelons, pomegranates, various fruits and sweets, which are symbols of health, joy and profusion. During this long night, Iranians also like to read poems by Hafez and predict the future by breaking nuts; the full ones announcing a good year and the voids, a bad one. Many civilizations also had special holidays for the beginning of winter, but with different purposes and customs.
In Iran and neighboring countries, the beginning of winter was the night of the winter revolution that corresponded exactly in their calendar to the morning of the thirtieth evening of Azar, the eve of December 22nd. Some mistakenly believe that this night of Yalda was an opportunity to fight against the evil forces of the longest night of the year, while this festival finds its source in very ancient customs of the Persian civilization. This festival was for them the opportunity to stay awake until morning to contemplate the rising sun that had just been born. The elders of the family had to be present to symbolize the ancientness of the sun, and the consumption of red fruits, which represented the colors of the sun, helped the participants to stay awake.


Shab-e Yalda in ancient Iran

For the populations of this period, which consisted mainly of farmers and herdsmen, the dualism of the day and the night, the seasons, the heat and the cold, the light and the darkness, were perpetuated in the dualism of human characters, in good and evil, friendship or animosity, etc. Everything was divided into two groups, profitable or harmful things being respectively related to the god of Good and the god of Evil. They preferred the day which was the moment of work and light. In the evening, they gathered together and lit a fire to prevent the progression of the evil, and until the last evening of the month of Azar, announcer of longer days and the victory of the light.
The night of Yalda in some Iranian regions
This tradition has undergone many transformations but has remained alive and well in all regions of the country. All Iranians consider this evening as a festive evening, during which friendship and sincerity are celebrated. In Khorasan, this evening is called the evening of quarantine according to a tradition that goes back very far in History. To welcome the first day of cold weather, this party is particularly bright. Some bring gifts to their daughters-in-law, especially in the southern part of the province. Many presents are then sent to the fiancees from the fiance's family, and sometimes the two families gather in the house of the elders (for example that of the grandparents) on this occasion, to spend the evening reading books. poems and tell stories until the middle of the night. In southern Khorasan, it is customary to soak the roots of a plant that grows in this region and boil them. These roots are then placed in large bowls of earthenware and the men accompanied by the young men of the family stir them up to make them foam. This mousse is then mixed with a brown sugar and is ready to be consumed by the guests, accompanied by pistachios and nuts.

The province of Isfahan celebrates the night of Yalda according to special customs that have survived until today. Winter was divided into two parts, the great quarantine and the quarantine. The first period began on December 22 and the second on January 29 and ended on February 19. The inhabitants of Isfahan then organized family ceremonies around a tablecloth lying on the ground and where were served watermelons, symbols of the solar circle, and whose colors symbolized the colors of the sun in its various positions. Clothes and sheets were also laid out in the sun to celebrate this event.

In the province of Kermanshah, which is a very rich region from an archaeological and historical point of view, the night of Yalda is a very old tradition. People gather to witness the birth of the sun and stay awake until dawn. The stories of Shirin and Farhad, Rostam and Sohrab, the stories of Hossein Kord Shabestari and the beautiful poems of Shami Kermanshahi, filled this evening. In the past, family members used to gather in the older houses to gather under the traditional Korsi, a coffee table covered with heavy blankets, around bowls of dried fruit, fruit dishes and cakes made from flour. rice, prepared by the grandmothers on this occasion. The poems of Hafez, to predict the nuptial future of young girls in particular, are also on the program of the evenings of Yalda, in the province of Kermanshah.

In the province of Zahedan, the night of Yalda is filled with stories transmitted from generation to generation. These traditional evenings create unforgettable memories for children and young people. Board games and funny stories are on the program. The region of Azerbaijan also has its own customs: in most towns and villages in the west of this region, the fiancees offer each other gifts consisting of fruits, cakes, and decorated mirrors. At dusk, the women of the family come to the fiance to celebrate this special night and prepare dishes that will be sent to the fiancee. The fiancee's mother will respond with gifts consisting of scarves, stockings or cakes and fruit. The next day, these fruits and cakes will be offered, at a tea party, to the guests of the bride's mother. In the past, watermelons and fruit were hung from the kitchen ceiling to preserve them and to accompany the festive meal of chicken, rice and milk soup. By cutting the watermelon, the ancients recited this ritual formula "We have separated today from misfortune". The peelings were then dumped into the river as a good sign, and the elders told the stories of the legendary heroes of the epics of their region. The night continued in dialogue and chatter and the next day, the women began their autumn cleaning to ward off bad luck.

In Tehran too, in the past, the night of Yalda was an opportunity to get together as a family with parents and grandparents. Fruits were in the spotlight along with all kinds of dried and salted seeds, melon seeds, watermelon or pumpkin. These traditions are respected to a certain extent by the inhabitants of Tehran.

The night of Yalda, in modern Iranian society

This first winter night, as in the past, is an opportunity for all members of the family to gather at the older ones. Pastry chefs and fruit merchants prepare themselves a week in advance. The custom is that the watermelon is in the spotlight, because eating it that night, it is said, preserves diseases and flu during the cold weather. Grandmothers tell stories of the past, grandfathers tell stories of Ferdowsi's famous epic and the stories of legendary heroes of ancient Persia. Watermelon merchants pass through the streets, giving the cities an air of celebration that announces the night of Yalda. This night is embellished by poems by Hafez that announce the future and give this meeting a remarkable cultural and literary atmosphere. It is time to think about the future and the opportunity for an Iranian newspaper, for two years, to offer a literary prize: the price of Yalda.