Shab-e Yalda
About Iran,  Culture

Yalda Night in Iran: 5-Step Guide to Celebrate the Longest Night of the Year

Shab-e Yalda
Watermelon, pomegranate and nuts are traditional Yalda night treats

As you might know, December 21st is Winter Solstice which means it`s the longest night in the year. Not many of us would have even noticed! However, for Iranians whose calendar is deeply intertwined with the laws of nature, it`s a big holiday called Yalda Night.

Yalda Night awakes nostalgic feelings  in most Iranians who had seen a more traditional, thorough and more widely celebrated Yalda night at their grandparents` house with all relatives gathered around korsi (a traditional heating device, if I may call it so) sharing sweet memories of the past, reciting poems of Hafez and having lots of tea and snacks together.

Nowadays, however, Yalda night is not celebrated so widely any more. It isn`t even an official holiday what doesn`t let many people enjoy the whole night celebration. Still, for many Yalda remains a good occasion to gather up with family or friends and have some quality time together.

Many Iranians remember celebrating Yalda night at their grandparents` sitting by a korsi

What Iranians celebrate on Yalda Night

Ancient Iranians used to associate this holiday with the birth of ancient god of sun Mitra as well as victory of the Light. During the history, however, new layers of meaning has been added to it.

A lot of analogies can be drawn between Yalda night and some Western/Catholic holidays. Some researches (Dehkhoda is one of them) insisted that Western world celebrated Yalda instead of Christmas and New Year, but due to calendar conversion it shifted to December 25. Interestingly, Yalda itself means birth.

As Yalda is the last day of autumn, it used to be the end of harvesting. That`s why we can see many typical autumn fruits and nuts. For me, it resembles Thanksgiving a lot – a tradition of giving thanks for the harvest.

Nowadays, however, the meaning of Yalda night has narrowed down to celebrating the longest night of the year and start of winter.

Like on Black Friday in the US, many shops (especially online ones) provide good discounts on their stock. In shop windows you can see ‘Yalda Sale’ signs everywhere.

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It`s easy to spot Yalda night coming. Around a week before the day X some shop owners decorate their shops with Yalda displays containing pomegranates, Hafez poems, sweets maybe, and everything traditional and true Iranian. All culinary magazines publish their recommendations how to feed a crowd on Yalda night and what pomegranate desserts to make to impress your guests. And finally, you`ll see tons of photos featuring pomegranates on social networks!

What you are supposed to do at Yalda Night

STEP 1. Gather your nearest and dearest all together at home, restaurant or cafe (if you are going out, remember to book a table beforehand!). Some cafes and restaurant even offer special packages including live music, nuts and fruits, and traditional dinner.
STEP 2. Prepare snacks such as nuts, dried fruits, pomegranate (feel free to add it in your starter, main dish and dessert or serve as a separate dish – the more the better), watermelon (if you are lucky to find a good one) and brew lots of tea.
STEP 3. Prepare a book of Hafez to recite his poems or use it for fortunetelling.
STEP 4. Stay up as long as you can.
STEP 5. Enjoy your time with loved ones!

If you are NOT in Iran, but are willing to enhance this ancient Iranian tradition, head to Iranian restaurants in your city. Most of them hold Yalda celebrations (sometimes the last weekend before Yalda night – check in advance!) with lots of traditional food and music.

Have you ever participated in Yalda Night celebrations? What was your impression? Feel free to share it in comments!

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