- For the demiurge, see Yaldabaoth
Shab-e Chelleh (Persian: شب چلّه);
Zayeshmehr (Persian: زایش مهر);
Shab-e Yalda (Persian: شب یلدا)
|Observed by|| Iran
|Significance||Beginning of Winter|
|Date||December 20, 21 or 22|
|2014 date||21 December|
Yalda (Persian: یلدا, "birth"), or Zayeshmehr (Persian: زایش مهر) "Birth of Mithra", Shab-e Yalda (Persian: شب یلدا Shabe Yalda), "Night of Birth", or Shab-e Chelleh (Persian: شب چلّه; lit. "Night of Forty") is the Persian winter solstice celebration which has been popular since ancient times. Yalda is celebrated on 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.
Yalda has a history which date back to pre-Zoroastrian times. It marks the celebration of the Persian philosopher Mithra (or Mehr). Followers of Mithra or Mithraists believed that this night is the night of the birth of Mithra, Persian philospher of light and truth. At the morning of the longest night of the year the Mithra was born.
The Persian Mithra or the Indian Mitra represent the "Light-Knowledge" aspect of the immortal divinity. As Love and Patience are integral for knowledge to be imparted, this term "Mitra" literally means friend. The word itself is of Avestic and Vedic Sanskrit origin clearly indicating the historical roots. In later times Mitra was also called Meher. As Zoroastrianism was a reformation of an existing religious philosophy, this term of "pre-zoroastrian" is not relevant; as Mitra/Meher form a vital component of Zoroastrian liturgy.
Khursheed (Khor in Avestan) presides over the Sun. Thus Zarathushtra is called Khordad to indicate his divine radiance; a divine glow achieved in one mortal life time. Similarly the land of Khorasan is so termed as it is that easternmost area of the Persian empire to see first light and the place where most Zarathushtis were originally from. The first Parsis to escape the jihadist genocide and seek refuge in India were also from Khorasan.
Following the Persian calendar reform of 1925, which pegged some seasonal events to specific days of the calendar, Yalda came to be celebrated on the night before and including the first day of the tenth month (Day). Subject to seasonal drift, this day may sometimes fall a day before or a day after the actual Winter Solstice.
The Persian calendar reform of 1925 indicates an implementation of Islamic sensibilities on a Zoroastrian calendar to suit a population that is no longer Zoroastrian. The Zoroastrian calendar is based on scientific astronomy and therefore flexibly aligned to the longest night of the year, which can shift from the 20 to 22 December. "Daena" or "Dayna" is an Avestan word meaning religion specifically Zoroastrianism. It is derived from the term "Day" which means Light (knowledge). As such Dayna means that path or philosophy, weeded to Truth, Justice and Knowledge that leads to excellence.
Following the fall of the Sasanian Empire and the subsequent rise of Islam in Persia, 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 true morning will not come, until the Yalda Night is gone".
Yalda Night has been officially added to Iran's List of National Treasures in a special ceremony in 2008.
The Eve of the Yalda has great significance in the Persian/Iranian calendar. Shab-e Yalda is a time of joy.
Yalda is traced back to Syriac ܝܠܕܐ yaldā, meaning birth. Mithra-worshipers used the term 'yalda' specifically with reference to the birth of Mithra. As the longest night of the year, the Eve of Yalda (Shab-e Yalda) is also a turning point, after which the days grow longer. In ancient times it symbolized the triumph of the Sun God over the powers of darkness.
Mithra, remained a potent symbol of worship throughout the following centuries. Centuries later, during the Achaemenid era, Mithra became a principal dominant figure emphasizing monotheism in Persia.
In Sasanian times, Zoroastrianism became Persia's official religion, but Mithra's importance remained undiminished. This is evident from the bas-reliefs as Naqsh-e Rustam and Tagh-e Bustan. At Naqsh-e Rustam, Anahita bestows the royal diadem upon Nersi, the Sasanian King. At the investiture of Ardeshir I, Ahura Mazda bestows this diadem to the new King. At Tagh-e Bustan too, Ahura Mazda is again conferring the royal diadem upon Ardeshir II.
Over the centuries Mithraism spread to Greece and Ancient Rome via Asia Minor, gaining popularity within the ranks of the Roman army. In the 4th century AD as a result of errors made in calculating leap years and dates, the birthday of Mithra was transferred to 25 December.
It 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). In 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 Hafez) until well after midnight. Fruits and nuts are eaten and pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant. The red color in these fruits symbolizes the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life.
' The sight of you each morning is a New Year Any night of your departure is the eve of Yalda' (Sa'di)
'With all my pains, there is still the hope of recovery Like the eve of Yalda, there will finally be an end' (Sa'di)
During the long night, Iranians also practice bibliomancy with the poetry of the highly respected mystic Iranian poet, Hafez. The poems of Divan-e-Hafez, which can be found in the bookcases of almost all Iranian families, are intermingled with peoples' life and are read or recited during various occasions like Nowruz and Yaldā Night.
Customs and Traditions
In Zoroastrian and ancient Iranian traditions, the winter solstice was an auspicious day and included customs intended to protect people from misfortune. On that day, people were advised to stay awake most of the night. To commemorate, people have small parties and gatherings and eat the last remaining fresh fruits from summer.
Although Yalda is not official holiday in present day Iran, families continue to hold traditional gatherings Iranian radio and television offer special programmes on Yalda.
The night of the greater Chelleh is called šab-e Chelleh or šab-e yaldā and is the occasion of special ceremonies. Food plays a central role in Yalda celebrations. In most parts of Iran the extended family come together and enjoy a fine dinner. A wide variety of fruits and sweetmeats specifically prepared or kept for this night are served. Foods common to the Yalda celebration include watermelon, pomegranate, nuts, and dried fruit. These items and more are commonly placed on a korsi, which people sit around. In some areas it is custom that forty varieties of edibles should be served during the ceremony of the night of Chelleh.
Light-hearted superstitions run high on the night of Chelleh. These superstitions, however, are primarily associated with consumption. For instance, it is believed that consuming watermelons on the night of Chelleh will ensure the health and well-being of the individual during the months of summer by protecting him from falling victim to excessive heat or disease produced by hot humors. In Khorasan, there is a belief that whoever eats carrots, pears, pomegranates, and green olives will be protected against the harmful bite of insects, especially scorpions. Eating garlic on this night protects one against pains in the joints. Placing one’s mouth near a donkey’s ear and whispering into its ear is certain to cure any ailment, while mixing camel fat and mare’s milk and burning them will protect from insects the place where the smoke from this concoction penetrates.
After dinner the older individuals entertain the others by telling them tales and anecdotes . Another favorite and prevalent pastime of the night of Chelleh is divination by the Dīvān of Hafez (fāl-e Hafez). It is believed that one should not divine by the Dīvān of Hafez more than three times, however, or the poet may get angry.
Activities common to celebration of Yalda include staying up past midnight, conversation, eating, reading poems out loud, telling stories and jokes, smoking "Ghelyoon" (water pipe), and for some dancing. Prior to invention and prevalence of electricity, decorating and lighting the house and yard with candles was also part of the tradition, but few have continued this tradition. Another tradition is giving dried fruits and nuts to family and friends, wrapped in tulle and tied with ribbon (similar to wedding and shower "party favors"). Prior to ban of alcohol, drinking wine was also part of the celebration. Despite the Islamic alcohol ban in Iran, many continue to include home-made and contraband alcoholic drinks in their celebrations.
Another custom performed in certain parts of Iran on the night of Chelleh involves young engaged couples. The men send an edible arrangement containing seven kinds of fruits and a variety of gifts to their fiancees on this night. In some areas, the girl and her family return the favor by sending gifts back for the young man.
Many Iranian-Americans also celebrate Shab-e-Yalda in America. Some go to the extent of dressing up in "mahali" (traditional regional) clothes, and making makeshift Korsi to place the food on and gather around. Others do far less, only wishing each other a happy Yalda in phone calls or on social networks. Iranian-American cultural organizations teach about Shab-e-Yalda and some even have Yalda parties. There is evidence  to suggest that the 40 day period is also observed in Kashmir, India
- "YALDA: The Persian Winter Solstice Celebration", Payvand News, 2008-12-20, retrieved 2010-11-25
- Iran to celebrate Yalda; longest night of the year
- "چیلله گئجه سی". ahrabnews.com. Retrieved Jan 10, 2012.
- Culture and customs of Iran By Elton L. Daniel, ʻAlī Akbar Mahdī, Page 188
- Dareini, Ali Akbar (December 20, 2008), "Iranians celebrate longest night of the year" (– Scholar search), The Daily Journal, (AP wire story)[dead link].
- Omidsalar, Mahmoud. "Chelleh In Persian Folklore". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
- News Agencies. 40-day harshest winter period ‘Chillai Kalan’ begins in Kashmir. Retrieved 2013-12-18.
- Kianush, K. (August 7, 2005), The Festival of 'Yalda', Highworth: Art Arena
- Jafarey, Ali (December 19, 2002), Winter Solstice, Yule, Yuletide, Yalda, Vancouver Community Network
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