The last night of the fall (Azar 30 in Iranian Calendar) is celebrated as the Feast of Yalda in Iranian culture. It coincides with December 21 or 22 and is the longest night of the year. In Iran this night is called Yalda Night (in Persian: Shab-e-Yalda or Shab-e-Cheleh), which refers to the rebirth of the sun. Yalda is a Syriac word, which found its way into Farsi by the Syriac Christians and it means Birth (the Persian terms of Tavalod and Meelaad are from the same origin). Ancient Iranians believed that in the end of this longest night, which they believed was evil, Darkness is defeated by Light (Sun) and days become longer. This celebration comes in the beginning of the Iranian month of Day, which was also the name of the pre-Zoroastrian creator god (deity). Later he became known as the God of Light, from which the English word DAY is originated. The first day of winter or the first day of the month Day known as KHORAM ROOZ or KHOR ROOZ (the day of sun) belongs to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom.
Today the date for Christmas is slightly off from Yalda, but they are celebrated in many similar ways staying up all night, singing and dancing, gatherings with family and friends, lighting candles, and eating special foods and different types of fruit such as pomegranate, watermelon, etc. The feast of Hanukkah is also about a week earlier than Yalda. Hanukkah is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple after the victory (165 BC) by the Maccabeus over the Syrians. As M. Price noted, "Iranian Jews, who are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the country, in addition to Shab-e-Cheleh, also celebrate the festival of Illanout (tree festival) at around the same time. Illanout is very similar to the Shab-e-Cheleh celebration. Candles are lit and all varieties of dried and fresh winter fruits are served. Special meals are prepared and prayers are performed".
One of the traditions of Yalda is reciting the poems or asking Hafez for an omen to explain what will happen in the future (in Persian: Faal-e-Hafez). A collection of the verses on Yalda written by a number of Iranian composers can be viewed online in a section of Chain of Poems as provided by this author:
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Jafarey, A. (2002): Online Notes on Winter Solstice, Yule, Yuletide, and Yalda in Vancouver Community Network.
Price, M. (2001): Online Article on "A Brief History of Iranian Jews".
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Various Articles on Persian History and Persian Culture.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2005): Online Notes on Yalda (in English and Persian).
Originally published online on December 19, 2009