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Today: 6,000 Year Old Festival – the Longest Night of the Year

yalda بیا و کشتی ما در شط شراب انداز

خروش و ولوله در جان شیخ و شاب انداز

Yalda, Shab-e Yalda, “Night of Birth”, or Zayeshmehr, “Birth of Mithra”, or Shab-e Chelleh (Persian: شب چلّه‎, Azerbaijani: چیلله گئجه‌سی; lit. “Night of Forty”) is the Persian winter solstice celebration  which has been popular since ancient times. Yalda is celebrated as the Northern Hemisphere’s longest night of the year, that is, on the eve of the Winter Solstice. Depending on the shift of the calendar, Yalda is celebrated on or around December 20 or 21 each year.

Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life–the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of a pomegranate symbolizes birth or dawn, and their bright red seeds the glow of life.

Yalda has a history as long as the religion of Mithraism. The Mithraists believed that this night is the night of the birth of Mithra, the Persian angel of light and truth. At the morning of the longest night of the year the Mithra was born.

Following the fall of the Sassanid Empire and the subsequent rise of Islam in Persia/Iran, the religious significance of the event was lost, and like other Zoroastrian festivals, Yalda became a social occasion when family and close friends would get together. Nonetheless, the obligatory serving of fresh fruit during mid-winter is reminiscent of the ancient customs of invoking the divinities to request protection of the winter crop.

The 13th century Persian poet Sa’di wrote in his Bustan: “The true morning will not come, until the Yalda Night is gone”.

The rituals around the 6,000-year tradition are intended to revive the spirit of affection and togetherness in families.