Yalda night – the Persian Christmas
Iranians start preparing for Yalda night celebrations in December. "Yalda" in old Persian language (syriac) means birth. Yalda night, (Shab-e-Yalda) is a traditional Iranian celebration of the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This Persian winter event is commemorated on or around December 20 or 21 each year. Many Iranians are out making their purchases of fruits such as pomegranate, watermelon and various dried nuts. Today Yalda celebrations have become a social occasion when friends and family gather to eat and drink until after midnight.
One of the other traditions of Yalda night, which has been added in recent centuries, is the recitation of the classic poetry of Hafez, the Iranian poet of 14th century AD. Each member of the family makes a wish and randomly opens the book and asks the eldest member of the family to read it aloud. What is expressed in that poem is believed to be the interpretation of the wish and whether and how it will come true. This is called Faal-e Hafez (Hafez Omen).
The fruits signify the hope for having a fruitful spring and summer. Many Iranians believe the red-colored fruits symbolize glow of life. Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life – the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of a pomegranate symbolizes birth or dawn, and their bright red seeds represent the glow of life.
Shab-e Yalda, the longest and darkest night of the year, for many Persians symbolizes a fresh beginning for the remainder of the calendar year. It is also famous as "shab-e-chelleh". It is one of the most important celebrations in ancient Iran, dating back some 5,000 years ago and continues to be celebrated to this day.
Coinciding with the beginning of the winter, Yalda is an occasion to celebrate the end of the crop season. It is today an event to thank the Lord for all blessings and to pray for prosperity in the next year.