There are plenty of Iranian sites, which will talk about Yalda, but for me as an Iranian, with deep roots in the supernatural or incredible Iranian and British traditions, it is important to bridge the gap in the ancient beliefs, in both cultures.
Below are two long articles, that make more sense to an Iranian, who knows Yalda, than a non-Iranian, who just knows Christmas. That simple reason, is enough to say, that the traditions, are part of the Persian Yuletime celebrations, known as Yalda, and silent night before it, known as Shabe Yalda (the older root of the same word in Christian Sabbath or Jewish Shabbat).
Iranians are getting ready to stay up tonight. Take a look at this table of times for sunrise and sunset times of Tehran.
You can see how the days get shorter and the nights get longer. If you used the Iranian calendar format, the 21st would be the last day of Azar or Sagittarius.
Yalda, is a celebration of our ability, to fight the darkest part of our life. The Ancients, did not believe in heaven and hell. They looked where we fit in the cycle of time and space. They were the first farmers to settle, after the African exodus some 20,000 years ago. They experienced the change in the seasons, and the interplay of light and darkness, not unlike it was in Africa.
Human beings in Iran, learnt of seasons and space-time in the Iranian plateau, for the first time. What is remarkable, is that they did not have graveyards, as that would spoil the earth. They did put their dead to be purified in the hands of sunlight in tall towers. So how did they remember the parted?
We all know what somber moments mean, as the nights get longer, we are at home, and we miss the parted. As the parted in the real world will come home for Christmas, so will the ones from their other new journeys, in other space-times. There is one time in the year, when the spirits of old, are connected to their home and touch their descendants.
There is this great love, that trancends the bubble you are in. The love is called Mehr and the ruler of the Astrological sign of Capricorn is Saturn, whose symbol is the Christian Cross, is exhalted in Mehr or Libra. That gateway opens on the first light of the first longer day.
It is that concept, that gets put into a religious context, and later is blown out of all proportions, because people assembled in public, as opposed to private places. But then, if you are homeless, where do you go on the longest night of the year, where your ancestors want to reach you?
I find my parted in my heart. But some want to share and cry with others and light a candle. So temples were built, even though the Zend-Avesta clearly states, that there are no holy places, as all nature is holy. Need I say more, just look at the wars.
There is then, a gateway in space and time, for all of us in the now and hearafter to meet. Stonehenge in England, The Throne of Solomon in Iran, are just one oldest stone circles, where people go to, to meet their ancestors, who are in another space and time.
As a Christian, you will read about Iranians telling you that Christmas is Yalda. There will be debates about "which came first". I used to do it when I had to win the debates in my English boarding school.
Ironically in Iran, the people were totally oblivious to Christmas trees and its link to the ever green Sarv. They had lost their link to the celebration of logs, even though wood and fire is at the core of Zoroastrian celebrations. So how did we lose that and why?
My Safavid ancestors, I am sorry to say, reintroduced Shia, even though the Monguls had brought back the ancient traditions, and had wiped out Islam from Iran. So none of our ancient and common traditions with our cousins in Europe were kept.
But thanks to the Zoroastrians in Pir-e-Sabz and elsewhere, the flame of old is kept alive to us all. We have then, sacred fire temples, being nourished today, as have been for thousands of years. Our special sandal wood, is used spread the healing powers. See what Iranian Zoroastrian do to keep our traditions in the link at the bottom of page.
As explained below, the Yule celebrations of the Norse traditions, talk of the wheel of time, the burning of your log from your land, that has been treated in that special way to give it the Christmas smell and feel. So here is that lovely timeless link, that binds us Iranians, with our dear cousins who left us those thousands of years ago
Mmm. It feels warm and bright. You snuggle up next to the tall Sarv or Christmas tree, just like Darius felt when they designed the walls of Persepolis. The message is clear - that the Medes, Persians and the great Sarv Christmas tree, and all nature, are one. It is then a Season's Greeting, just like the other three Season's Greetings in Knowrooz, Mehregan and Tirgan.
The first article:
Yule - Winter Solstice
The origin of the word Yule, has several suggested origins from the Old English word, geõla, the Old Norse word jõl, a pagan festival celebrated at the winter solstice, or the Anglo-Saxon word for the festival of the Winter Solstice, 'Iul' meaning 'wheel'. In old almanacs Yule was represented by the symbol of a wheel, conveying the idea of the year turning like a wheel, The Great Wheel of the Zodiac, The Wheel of Life. The spokes of the wheel, were the old festivals of the year, the solstices and equinoxes.
The winter solstice, the rebirth of the Sun, is an important turning point, as it marks the shortest day, when the hours of daylight are at their least. It also the start of the increase in the hours of daylight, until the Summer Solstice, when darkness becomes ascendant once more.
Cycle of the Year
Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year, it is the seed time of year, the longest night and the shortest day, where the Goddess once again becomes the Great Mother and gives birth to the new Sun King. In a poetic sense it is on this the longest night of the winter, 'the dark night of our souls', that there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
Fire festivals, celebrating the rebirth of the Sun, held on the Winter's Solstice can be found throughout the ancient world. The Roman festival of Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, boughs of evergreen trees and bushes would decorate the house, gifts where exchanged and normal business was suspended. The Persian Mithraists held December 25th as sacred to the birth of their Sun God, Mithras, and celebrated it as a victory of light over darkness. In Sweden, December 13th was sacred to the Goddess Lucina, Shining One, and was a celebration of the return of the light. On Yule itself, around the 21st, bonfires were lit to honor Odin and Thor.
The festival was already closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur with a cycle of birth, death and resurrection that is also very close to that of Jesus. It can hardly be a coincidence that the Christians, also used this time of year for the birth of Christ, mystically linking him with the Sun.
That Yule is another fire festival, should come as no surprise, however unlike the more public outdoor festival of the summer solstice, Yule lends itself to a more private and domestic celebration. Yet like its midsummer counterpart, is strongly associated with fertility and the continuation of life. Here the Goddess is in her dark aspect, as 'She Who Cuts The Thread' or 'Our Lady in Darkness', calling back the Sun God. Yet, at the same time, she is in the process of giving birth to Son-Lover who will refertilise her and the earth, bringing back light and warmth to the world.
" And the Yule-log cracked in the chimney,
And the Abbot bowed is head,
And the flamelets flapped and flickered,
But the Abbot was stark and dead."
H.W. Longfellow 'King Witlaf's Drinking Horn (1848)
Played an important role in the celebrations of the winter solstice and later Christmas, a large oak log was ceremoniously brought into the house and kindled at dusk, using a brand from the previous years Yule Log. It was deemed essential that the log, once lit, should burn until it was deliberately extinguished. The length of time, varied from region to region, from 12 hours to several days and it was considered ill-omened if the fire burnt itself out. It was never allowed to burn away completely, as some would be needed for the following year.
In England, it was considered unlucky for the Yule log to be bought, and had to be acquired using other means, as long as no money changed hands. Often it was given as a gift by landowners, and sometimes decorated with evergreens. In Cornwall a figure of a man was sometimes chalked on the surface of the log, mock or block. In Provence, where it was called the tréfoire, carols were sung invoking blessings upon the women that they might bear children and upon the crops, herds and flocks that they might also increase.
The ashes from the Yule log were often used to make protective, healing or fertilising charms, or scattered over the fields. In Brittany, the ashes were thrown into wells to purify the water, and in Italy as charms against hailstones.
In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, a variation of the Yule log was observed, here a figure of and old woman, the Cailleach Nollaich, was carved from a withered tree stump. At dusk, the figure was brought into the house and laid upon the burning peat of the house fire. The family would gather round the hearth and watch the figure consumed into ashes, the rest of the evening was spent in games and merriment. The figure, represented, not fertility and life but of the evils of winter and death, the figure had to be totally consumed if misfortune and death were to be averted in the coming year.
Mistletoe, from the Old English misteltãn, is a parasitic plant that grows on various trees, particularly the apple tree, it is held in great veneration when found on Oak trees. The winter solstice, called 'Alban Arthan' by the Druids, was according to Bardic Tradition, the time when the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. The mistletoe is cut using a golden sickle on the sixth day of the moon. It is often associated with thunder, and regarded as a protection against fire and lighting. In Scandinavian mythology, Balder the Beautiful was killed from an arrow made of mistletoe and wielded by the blind god Hoder. Shakespeare, in Titus Andronicus II calls it 'the baleful mistletoe'.
It is interesting to note that mistletoe was excluded from church decorations, probably due to its connection with the Druids and pagan and magickal associations. This ancient ban on mistletoe is still widely observed.
This was an ornamental candle of great size, once widely used at Yule throughout Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. It was often coloured red, green or blue and decorated with sprigs of holly or some other evergreen. The candle was lit either on Christmas Eve, its light shedding on the festival supper and left to burn throughout the night or early Christmas morning, to burn throughout the day. It was rekindled on each successive night of the twelve day festival, and finally extinguished on the Twelfth Night.
While the candle burnt, it was believed to shed a blessing on the household, it was considered a sign of ill omen or misfortune for the candle to go out or blown out. It was also considered unlucky to move it, or blow out the flame, when the time came to extinguish it, it was done by pressing the wick with a pair of tongs. In some households only the head of the family could perform this task, it being considered unlucky for anyone else to touch it whilst alight.
Up until the middle of the last century, chandlers used to present regular customers, with Yule Candles of various sizes, as a gift.
Wassail, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon wes hál, meaning 'be whole', or 'be of good health', or Old Norse ves heill, and was a salutation use at Yule, when the wassail bowl was passed around with toasts and singing. Wassail carols would be sung as people would travel from house to house in the village bringing good wishes in return for a small gratuity. The Apple Tree Wassail, sung in hopes of a good crop of cider the following year, other such as the Gower Wassail carol still survive today.
Recipe for Yule Wassail
3 red apples
3 oz brown sugar
2 pints brown ale, apple cider, or hard cider
1/2 pint dry sherry or dry white wine
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger strips or lemon peel
Core and heat apples with brown sugar and some of the ale or cider in an oven for 30 minutes. Put in large pan and add rest of spices and lemon peel, simmer on stove top of 5 minutes. Add most of the alcohol at the last minute so it heats up but does not evaporate. Burgundy and brandy can be substituted to the ale and sherry. White sugar and halved oranges may also be added to taste. Makes enough for eight. Wassail!
Ritual for Yule
SUPPLIES: Yule log (oak or pine) with white, red and black candles on it (set it in the fireplace), chalice of wine, small piece of paper and pencil for each person.
The altar is adorned with evergreens such as pine, rosemary, bay, juniper and cedar, and the same can be laid to mark the Circle.
After casting the circle the Priestess should say:
"Since the beginning of time, we have gathered in this season to
celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.
On the Winter Solstice, the darkest of nights,
The Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again
gives birth to the Sun and the new yearly cycle,
Bringing new light and hope to all on Earth.
On the longest night of winter,
and the dark night of our souls,
there springs the new spark of hope,
the Sacred Fire,
the Light of the World.
We gather tonight to await the new light.
On this night, the Maiden, who is also Mother
and Crone, prepares to welcome the Sun.
Let's now prepare to welcome the new light within."
~Invocation to the Goddess and God:
(Priest) "I light this fire in your honor Mother Goddess
You have created life from death, warmth from cold
The Sun lives once again, the time of light is waxing.
We invite you, Great Mother, to our circle
Bring us new light, the light of your glorious Son."
(Priestess light the white candle on the Yule log and say):
"I come to you as Maiden
Young and free, fresh as springtime
Yet within me a yearning stirs to create and share
and so I become...
(Light the red candle) The Mother
I bring forth the fruit of my creativity
Yet an ancient prophet once told me, as I stood with my son,
A sword shall pierce through thy own heart also
And I knew that I must become...
(Light the black candle) The Crone
The ancient wise one, Lady of Darkness
We three - in - one who brought forth that special child
as long ago, also anointed him for burial-
A bright light that grew and was sacrificed to be reborn
as a new light."
(Priest) "Ancient God of the forest, we welcome you
Return from the shadows, O Lord of Light.
The wheel has turned. We call you back to warm us.
Great God of the Sun
I welcome your return
May you shine brightly upon the Earth."
~Consecration of the Yule Log
(Priestess) "Yule is the end of the old solar year and the beginning
of the new one. Traditionally, the end of the year is a time
to look back and reflect. It is a time to look ahead
to the future, to make plans and set goals."
On your piece of paper, write something you hope to accomplish during the coming year. When you are finished, attach the slip of paper to the Yule Log.
Priest picks up the chalice and says:
"We toast the new year (sprinkles wine on the log) and in token
of its promise, we consecrate this sacred wood as a focus for the
energies through which we accomplish our tasks and manifest our
desires during the coming cycle."
~All drink from the chalice.
(Priestess) "You who have died are now reborn. Lend us your light through the winter months as we await the spring. Let us now light the Yule Log. Once having burned with the Yule fire, these candles will contain the luck of the log throughout the coming year." (remember to save a small piece of the log for next Yule or save the ashes or the candles.)
~Priest and Priestess light the Yule log together.
(Priestess - extinguishing the God taper)
"Thank you Bright Lord
for the light you have brought to us this night
May we carry it within us throughout the coming year."
(Priest - extinguishing the Goddess taper)
"Thank you most gracious Lady
for your freshness of spirit, your nurturing care
your infinite wisdom
Live within us throughout the coming year.
So mote it be."
~Close the circle the way you usually do.
The second article:
The Winter Solstice - Yule Lore
The date varies from December 20 to December 23 depending on the year in the Gregorian calendar. Yule is also known as the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere due to the seasonal differences.
Yule, (pronounced EWE-elle) is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, the sun's "rebirth" was celebrated with much joy. On this night, our ancestors celebrated the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth. From this day forward, the days would become longer.
Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spiced cider. Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun. The boughs were symbolic of immortality (evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not "die" thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine). The wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes, in hopes Nature Sprites would come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to visit tthe residents.Mistletoe was also hung as decoration. It represented the seed of the Divine, and at Midwinter, the Druids would travel deep into the forest to harvest it.
The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift... it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last years log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.
A different type of Yule log, and perhaps one more suitable for modern practitioners would be the type that is used as a base to hold three candles. Find a smaller branch of oak or pine, and flatten one side so it sets upright. Drill three holes in the top side to hold red, green, and white (season), green, gold, and black (the Sun God), or white, red, and black (the Great Goddess). Continue to decorate with greenery, red and gold bows, rosebuds, cloves, and dust with flour.
Many customs created around Yule are identified with Christmas today. If you decorate your home with a Yule tree, holly or candles, you are following some of these old traditions. The Yule log, (usually made from a piece of wood saved from the previous year) is burned in the fire to symbolize the Newborn Sun/Son.
Deities of Yule: All Newborn Gods, Sun Gods, Mother Goddesses, and Triple Goddesses. The best known would be the Dagda, and Brighid, the daughter of the Dagda. Brighid taught the smiths the arts of fire tending and the secrets of metal work. Brighid's flame, like the flame of the new light, pierces the darkness of the spirit and mind, while the Dagda's cauldron assures that Nature will always provide for all the children.
Symbolism of Yule:
Rebirth of the Sun, The longest night of the year, The Winter Solstice, Introspect, Planning for the Future.
Symbols of Yule:
Yule log, or small Yule log with 3 candles, evergreen boughs or wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, gold pillar candles, baskets of clove studded fruit, a simmering pot of wassail, poinsettias, christmas cactus.
Herbs of Yule:
Bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense holly, laurel, mistletoe, oak, pine, sage, yellow cedar.
Foods of Yule:
Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb's wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).
Incense of Yule:
Pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon.
Colors of Yule:
Red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow, orange.
Stones of Yule:
Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds.
Activities of Yule:
Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, honoring Kriss Kringle the Germanic Pagan God of Yule
Spellworkings of Yule:
Peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.
Deities of Yule:
Goddesses-Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana, The Great Mother. Gods-Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The Green Man, The Divine Child, Mabon.
Happy Yalda to all
And finally please visit this lovely website where you will read about our Zoroastrian heritage.
Below is an image of the oldest Christmas tree that is regarded as holy and is 8000 years old.