Yalda is the longest
night of the year. Ancient Iranians believed that at the
end of this longest night, which they believed was evil,
darkness was defeated by light (Sun) allowing the days to
This celebration comes
at the beginning of the Iranian month of Day, which was
also the name of the pre-Zoroastrian Iranian creator god
(deity). Later he became known as the god of light, from
where the English word “day” has its roots.
The birth of the sun and
beginning of the winter has become the beginning of the
year and source of celebration in many cultures and
traditions. Early Christians related this very ancient
Persian celebration to Mithra, god of light, and linked it
to Christ's birthday. Today, the date for Christmas is
slightly off from Yalda, but they are celebrated in many
similar ways, staying up all night, singing and dancing,
gatherings with family and friends, lighting candles, and
eating special foods.
with the very beginning of winter, Yalda is also an
occasion to celebrate the end of the harvest of the
previous year and to wish and pray for the prosperity of
the next year’s harvest.
was said that Mithra was born out of the light that came
from within the Alborz mountains. Ancient Iranians would
gather in caves along the mountain range throughout the
night to witness this miracle together at dawn. They were
known as 'Yar-e Ghar' (Cave Mates).
Iran today, despite of the advent of Islam and Muslim
rituals, Shab-e Yalda is still celebrated widely. It is a
time when friends and family gather together to eat, drink
and read poetry (especially Hafiz) until well after
midnight. Fruits and nuts are eaten and pomegranates and
watermelons are particularly significant. The red colour
in these fruits symbolises the crimson hues of dawn and
glow of life, invoking the splendour of Mithra.