Yalda, the Ancient Feast
What is Yalda in the Iranian culture? So, we start from the first! From ancient time to the present, Iranian looked for excuses to celebrate. Thousands of years ago, they had a calendar with one celebration in each month. But before that, before what we refer to today as calendars, they determined the passing of time based on the changes in nature. With those changes, they could plan their harvest and the many celebration that accompanied that. They had events about banishing the old year, welcoming the New Year, stopping the sicknesses or regaining power.
Generally, this system divided the year in two parts, the cold and the warm part. The sections were not always permanent and with changes in nature, they changed as well. As time passed, the prediction of these two parts became easier and easier. The celebration of winter was very common and popular among these peasants and farmers. The farmers did their harvest, sold it and stock it before the winter. It marked the final days of a hard working season. With the beginning of winter, they had to refer to other means of gaining income.
Yalda; The revival of sun
For a time, the beginning of the New Year was the beginning of the winter or the cold section of the year. However, later it changed to the beginning of spring as a celebration of renewal of the nature. Iranian then called the ceremony of New Year, Nowruz. Nevertheless, for a long time, the ceremony that marked the beginning of winter was Iranian New Year, a celebration that came to be known as Yalda.
Yalda as a word means rebirth or regrowth. It also marks the longest night of the year. At the heart of this night, and the celebration that follows, we have the battle of day and night, light and darkness, good and evil. This night is when darkness is at its outmost power. However, at the end the goodness and sun win the battle. After this night, sun slowly regains its power.
The celebration of today
There are not enough documents about how Yalda was celebrated in ancient time. However, today we celebrate it by gathering together. It is one night that the whole family should spend together. They usually gather at the house of the elders and celebrate together. Like Nowruz, they arrange a table filled with different food and fruits.
Yalda is celebration of enjoying delicious food as well. Besides, the Yalda table is very colorful because of the many enjoyable edibles. The items of the table differ from city to city and family to family. However, there are couple of things that we cannot omit from Yalda, like watermelon, pomegranate and nuts. Every Yalda table definitely has these three. Then we have sweets, other fruits like persimmons, oranges, and bananas.
We also have a very interesting tradition and that is reading the sonnets of the famous 14th century poet Hafiz. However, this is not just a normal reading. Since Hafiz was a very mystical character, we believe that one can predict the future with his poems. On Yalda night, we make a wish and open his poem collection, the sonnet will show our present and future. We call it Tafaol.
Yalda is the celebration of light and goodness. We support and encourage sun to come up and keep shining. We celebrate the wining of goodness. We celebrate unending hope. Nowadays, more than anything, Yalda is an excuse for gathering together. In a world that the hassles of everyday life separated everyone, we take the chance to come together and celebrate. Now, Yalda is the celebration of Family, of having each other as well.