Yalda Night Celebration
Iranian-Persian American Association of Greater Long Beach (IPAA) celebrated Yalda on Saturday, December 14, 2019 in Long Beach. Friends and family gathered together for a night of fun, good food, music and dancing.
Shab-e Yalda or Shab-e Chella (Yalda Night or the 40th Night in Persian) is an ancient Iranian festival celebrated on the eve of the first day of winter, the “longest night” of the year.
“Yalda Night” culturally and historically is a social event when friends and family gather together for fun and merriment as they enjoy the longest night of the year by telling stories and reading poetry well after midnight in anticipation of the rise of the radiant and heartwarming sun, the deity of ancient Iranians, Mithra. As stories are told and poetry recited, different kinds of dried fruits, nuts, and seeds are delightfully eaten to shorten the long night. Pomegranates and watermelons mark the agrarian nature of the festivity and the hope for fertility. The red color in these fruits symbolizes the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life. The presence of dried and fresh fruits is reminiscent of the ancient feasts to celebrate and pray to the supreme deity Mithra to ensure the protection of the winter crops. Often after the advent of Islam different kinds of poems particularly those of Divan-e-Hafez, are recited intermingled with accounts of personal stories.
The enduring tradition is traceable to Mithraism that came to shape and influence most ancient cultures, including Zoroastrianism. The event marks the birth of the sun, the celebration of the victory of light over darkness. The longest night of the year comes when the forces of Ahriman, the evil, are at the peak of their strength. The next day, the first day of winter known as "khoram rooz" (the day of sun) belongs to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Since the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of the Sun over the darkness.
The longest night of the year marks "the night opening the initial forty-day period of the three-month winter", from which the name Chella, "forty", derives. The other name of the festival, “Yalda”, is a borrowing from Syriac-speaking Christians. In the 1st-3rd centuries, significant numbers of eastern Christians settled in territories close to western Iran where they received protection from religious persecutions. Through them, Western Iranians came in contact with Christian religious observances, including, it seems, Yalda, which in Syriac literally means "birth" but in a religious context the term was also the Syriac Christian proper name for Christmas, close to the eve of the winter solstice. Some argue that the Christians adopted the Mithraic tradition from the people of the region to mark Dec 23 as the birth of Christ. However, it is not clear when and where the terms 'Shab-e Yalda' and 'Shab-e Cheleh' became synonymous. Since Christianity came after Mithraism, it is likely the notion of the birth of Christ on Dec 23 and the celebration associated with Mithraism have influenced one another.
In recent times, Yalda Night is still celebrated symbolically to represent the end of darkness (the longest dark night) and to celebrate the fierce fight against fear and triumph over the forces of darkness to herald the beginning of brighter and warmer days to come.