Yalda night | History and Rituals of Yalda the longest night in the year

Yalda night or Shab-e Cheleh is one of the most important ancient festivals in Iran, which people hold between the time of sunset on the 30th of Azar until sunrise on the first of January. As the last days of autumn arrive, Yalda happy voice is heard; Yalda is a playful girl with long black hair who distracts everyone so that no one sees the tears of autumn when she falls from the ground. Autumn wants to stay and continues her colorful show, but Yalda night, with a small frown, informs her that it is time to show off her white winter dress. These are the struggles that prolong Yalda’s stay and mark the longest night of the year in the last autumn evening. Our ancestors decorated the black hair of Yalda by lighting their houses and celebrated this beautiful night by being together. Family members, young and old, come together to spend the longest night of the year together. Happiness is set up in every home and everyone seizes the opportunity to enjoy being together more and to create a lasting memory. Chiyakotravel wants to take a look at this ancient festival and tell you about its history and customs. Join us to learn more about this long night and its ancient stories …

Yalda night | An excuse to be together 

This celebration celebrates the passing of the longest night of the year and the beginning of the longest days in the Northern Hemisphere, in other words, the occurrence of the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the official start of winter. Yalda night is not just a celebration but an ancient legacy of our ancestors that teaches us that we can use every moment of life to be together; Even a dark and cold night can be bright and warm with the warmth of love and the light of love and be an excuse to create a memory. Yalda tells us that even after the longest night of the year is morning and the dark moments can not last forever. This night is a symbol of clear hope and has many messages. Our ancestors thought of everything and tried to bring people together by creating a special ritual for this night. Yalda is an excuse to take a moment away from our worries and daily life and have sweet moments with the lovely people in our lives. On this night, families, friends and acquaintances come together and serve a variety of fruits and snacks. The storytelling of the elders of the family for other members of the family, as well as fortune-telling with the Divan of Hafez, is an integral part of this long night which we will discuss in detail below. It is not bad to know that this ancient festival was included in the list of intangible heritage of Iran in 2009 in order to pay attention to the protection, promotion, and dissemination of ancient culture, dating back more than eight thousand years.

Yalda or Chele?

In many sources and among the natives of some places, the word Yalda is not used and the word Shab-e Cheleh is mostly heard. For example, in Khorasan literature, the word Yalda does not appear and in oral and written documents of all historical periods, the term Shab-e Cheleh or Cheleh Neshini has been used. People also called the event “Night of Lights” because every party carries a lamp to go to for a night out, and the abundance of lights led to the use of the phrase “forty lights”, which is a sign that there are many lights. Cheleh stands for 40 and represents a period. In popular literature, there are two Chelehs at the beginning of summer and at the beginning of winter, and in each of these chapters, a small Cheleh and a large Cheleh are considered. The winter solstices are: big Chele. The first forty days of winter, ie the first of January to the tenth of February, are called Cheleh Bozorg. The meaning of winter is the big snow, which refers to the cold and its severity. small Cheleh lasts twenty days and in Central Iran it lasts from the 10th of February to the end, but in other parts, from the 17th of February to the 5th of March is considered for it.

History of Yalda night

Yalda night had a special place among Iranians; But evidence suggests that this celebration has been recorded in the official calendar of the ancient Iranians since 502 BC and during the time of Darius I. The reason for the emergence of this night and considering it as a special night has interesting stories that it is not without grace to know. In ancient times, when agriculture was the basis of human life, people were always curious about the year, the passing of seasons and natural contradictions, and tried to unravel their mysteries. Gradually, as a result of their experience, they adjusted their work and activities with the movement of the sun, the change of seasons, the length and shortness of day and night, and the direction and movement of the stars. People realized that at certain times and seasons, the days were very long and allowed them to enjoy more sunlight. As a result of these observations, it was believed that the light and brightness of the sun is a symbol of good and agreeable and fights against the darkness of the night. Ancient peoples, including Aryans, Indians, Iranians, Indians, and Europeans, came to realize that the last day of autumn was the shortest day of the year and the first night of winter the longest night.

They found that right after this long night, the days gradually got longer and the nights got shorter. For this reason, this night was called the night of the birth of the sun (Mehr) and it was considered as the beginning of the year. Some believe that Christian Christmas also stems from this belief. 

Borhan Qate which is a Persian dictionary, explains the word Yalda as follows:

Yalda is the first night of winter and the last night of autumn which is the first serious and the last of the arc, and it is the longest night in the whole year, and on that night or close to that night, the sun delivers to a serious tower. And some have said that Yalda 11th night is serious.

From this definition, it can be understood that in the past, darkness represented the devil, and in the longest night of the year, the devilish darkness lasts longer. For this reason, this night was considered unlucky for the Iranians and they did special things to ward off its evil.

Yalda rituals

With the arrival of night, it is time to perform the special ceremonies of this celebration, which are:

  •   Sitting together:

Gathering and spending the night with family and relatives is the most important part of this celebration. They spend all their hours together, bringing the longest night of the year to the morning light. They take this opportunity to enjoy being together.

  • Yalda night snacks:

Everyone puts special foods on the table of Yalda according to the customs of the region in which they live. Among the most common foods can be mentioned the following: Colorful fruits and vegetables

Watermelon: This fruit has become a symbol for Yalda and its market is very hot near this night. Watermelon is reminiscent of the heat of summer, and Iranians believe that eating it tonight will prevent the cold from overwhelming them in winter. Of course, the properties of watermelon and the presence of vitamins A, B and C in it show that this belief can be true.

Pomegranate: Pomegranate seeds are also one of the symbolic elements of Yalda and have a special place in Yalda night ceeration. Pomegranate is a refreshing and blood-forming fruit and is placed in Yalda as a symbol of happiness and fertility. Due to the properties of pomegranate and vitamin C in it which gives new energy to humans, we can expect freshness from it.

Pumpkin: Pumpkin with its attractive orange color gives a special face to Yalda night. Pumpkin has long been cooked on the night of Yalda and has given a special warmth to this ceremony. This delicious food is a manifestation of light and a symbol of the victory of day over night.

Beets: From ancient times, beets were cooked on Yalda night and placed on the Yalda table in the form of lips. The lip is a symbol of blessing and day and has a special effect on the Yalda table.

Other fruits: azaleas, persimmons, apples and citrus fruits, etc. are also eaten in Yalda, and each region puts its own fruits and vegetables on Yalda table.

  • Yalda Night Nuts:
Yalda night nuts are one of the most delicious and of course the most popular elements of this night. This special nut is a combination of different types of nuts and dried fruits and has many properties. The nuts of these nuts contain a variety of vitamins E and B, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, magnesium, vitamin A and protein, which in the body increase bone density and prevent hair loss and skin wrinkles, treat depression, increase It strengthens eyesight and relieves fatigue and muscle cramps.
  • Special dishes for Yalda night:
Yalda night is one of the few nights when everyone gathers together, so it should be held properly and a good dinner should be prepared for it. In every city and town, special food is considered for this night. Vegetable rice with fish, pomegranate rice, barberry rice, Kalam polo Shirazi, etc. all give a new color to this night and multiply the pleasure of being together.
  • Poetry reading and storytelling
One of the most fascinating parts of Yalda that is being forgotten today is the storytelling which is referred to as a kind of poetry reading and storytelling. This custom used to be held on many nights, including Yalda night, during which the elders told stories and narrations to others or recited poems. They also told real-life stories and shared their experiences.