The memories of those nights in Teheran are vividly etched into my memory. Masses of red pomegranates, watermelon, and dried nuts overflowing on a big round korsi-low table. The hypnotizing aroma of saffron and cardamom would fill the room, as the whole family would sit around the korsi together, staying awake all night, reciting our favorite poetry from Rumi and Hafez, singing songs, and being together on the longest night of the year, Shabeh Yaldah. Yaldah meaning birth in Farsi signifies renewal and rebirth. The longest and darkest night of the year–winter solstice –darkness is defeated by light and therefore one must celebrate the whole night.
Those memories are a distant mirage now, as I had no choice but to flee Iran at the age of 19. I am a gay, Iranian man. Being gay in Iran is considered blasphemy and a sin. I thought that I could bring change to the regime and chose to publicly come out as a gay man in Iran. I started receiving warnings and threats from the regime to leave or worse things would come. I felt like a prisoner in my own country, as there would be times where weeks would go by and I would not leave my home, afraid of the repercussions I would receive from the revolutionary guards. When Iran had become infamous for public executions of gay men (or supposedly gay men), I knew that there was nothing left to do but flee from my home country.
Now I am living in Vancouver, Canada, far from my home country, as a refugee. Spending the holidays alone in a new country is especially hard as it is a reminder of what you left behind. Shabeh Yalda is all about the joy of spending a long, cold evening with loved ones, a night of unity. My wish is to never spend it alone ever again and to one day be able to celebrate it with my family once again.
On the Shabeh Yaldah festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the Goddess of Light, Mirtha, and the victory of light over darkness. It is my greatest hope that this light will reach Iran, and we will one day celebrate the triumph over all evil forces in Iran and there will be freedom and tolerance for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, or gender.