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How Iranians Celebrate Winter Solstice

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Yalda Night: How Iranians Celebrate Winter Solstice

On the eve of the first day of winter, the winter solstice. Sometime between December 21 and 22, a nocturnal celebration is observed in Iran. It is generally called Yalda, or Shab-e-Chelle, for ‘chelle’ means 40. And Yalda celebration takes place 40 days prior to the Zoroastrian fire festival of Sadeh; according to the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. In the Zoroastrian era, people advised to stay awake for most of the night to prevent any bad luck from happening.

What serves at Yalda Night:

The significance of Yalda diminished over the centuries. Today, Night of Chelle or Yalda is merely a social occasion. When family and friends get together for fun and merriment. Also eating, drinking tea, and reciting poetry. Dried fruits, nuts, seeds and fresh winter fruits served. The presence of dried and fresh fruits in mid-winter is reminiscence. That is an ancient agricultural concern about the crops of different seasons. Pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant.

During Yalda Night:

On this night, the oldest member of the family says prayers. Thanking God for previous year’s blessings and prays for prosperity in the coming year. Then the melon is cut and share between everyone. The cutting symbolize the removal of sickness and pain from the family. People had to gather in the safety of groups of friends and relatives. Share the last remaining fruits from the summer. Also find ways to pass the long night together in good company.

This Night With Hafez:

The Yalda celebration goes well into midnight. The collection of the Persian poet Hafez has a special place in this night. That is for the joys of love, he lauds, befit such a merry occasion.Iranians believe in Hafez as much as believing in God. People make a wish, open a book of Hafez and the first poem they see is the interpretation. Which is the wish and whether and how it will come true. So in Yalda night each member of the family makes a wish and randomly opens the book. They ask the eldest member of the family to read it aloud.

About Korsi:

Before modern heating facilities came to existence, family and friends gathered in a night-long vigil around ‘korsi’ which is a low table with a brazier of hot coals underneath. At a time when only seasonal fruits and vegetables were available, the host, usually an elder, carefully dried. Preserved grapes, honeydew melons, watermelons, pears, oranges, tangerines, and apples. Everyone enjoyed gathered around the korsi, or a fireplace.

The Popular Foods:

The most important fruits of the evening are pomegranate. The jewel of all fruits, and watermelon. Without them, there is no Yalda night. The color of these fruits symbolise the cycle and glow of life. These days you can find everything in the shape and color of these fruit such as cake, cupcakes or even in home accessories. Eating nuts said to lead to prosperity in days to come. More substantial fare for the night’s feast includes eggplant stew with plain saffron-flavored rice, rice with chicken, thick yogurt, and halva.

Nowadays Yalda Night Celebration:

This same culture still exist. Every Yalda night people are gathering with their loved ones. They would especially go to their grandparents’ house. Eat, drink and read poetry(Hafez) during the whole the evening to pass the darkest evening of the year with laughter and joy. Iranians believe those who begin winter by eating summer fruits would not fall ill during the cold season. Honestly this evening is filled with different type of food. Gaining weight is very common in that evening!

Let me go back to the reasons why we celebrate Yalda night:

This celebration is coming from the time when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism prior to the advent of Islam. Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda.

Countries celebrate Yalda:

This night used in many Iranian poems to describe a dark night in which one gets separated from a loved one, creating loneliness and waiting. Other countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan are also celebrating this night.