Shab e Yalda (Yalda night ceremony,شب یلدا ) is the last night of fall, 30th of Azar, in the solar calendar and December 21st in Christian calendar. Yalda night is referred to as the longest and darkest night of a year. In Azeri, they call it Chelleh night (شب چله) which means the night after forty days. Indeed, Iranians celebrate this night with a festival because this night, the sun starts to glow and shine more in the sky. Ancient Iranians believed that night symbolizes evil and the darker the night was, the more power, the evil had. Therefore, they gathered in the darkest night of the year and read poetry and ate special foods to fight the evil. As time passed, many costumes of Yalda changed, but still, Iranians all over the world gather together in this night and read poems and eat special foods.
Persian food at Yalda Night
Yalda night’s dinner can be chosen according to the host’s liking. There is no rule to have a special dinner at Yalda night. However, some other foods, including special fruits and nuts, are customs and traditions that cannot be replaced. Nowadays, desserts and appetizers shaped like pomegranate and watermelon have become common to be served at Yalda.
Fruits of Yalda:
The main fruit that everyone eats at this night is watermelon. Indeed, watermelon is a symbol of Yalda night. Another essential fruit of this night is pomegranate. If you pay a bit of attention, you see that both these fruits are red. Ancient Iranians believed that the red color symbolizes the sun. Therefore they used these red fruits in this night menu. However, nowadays, all other types of fruits are served at this night.
Nuts of Yalda:
In the past, walnuts and almonds had a significant role in the Yalda night nuts. However, nowadays, they serve all types of nuts. A mixture of Persian nuts including almonds, pistachios, cashew, and roasted seeds. Sunflower seeds are also served as nuts at this night.
Cotton candy or as Persian people would say Pashamk is a part of Yalda foods. In the past, it was only simple white cotton candy. Nowadays, there are different types and flavors of Pashmak available.
Beetroots are cooked and served at Yalda as a part of this night’s costumes. Red beetroots are also signing of the sun.
As the industry of pastry and confectionery has developed, some sweets and pastries are added to the menu. For example, some cakes in watermelon or pomegranate shape, or candies in those shapes are available in Iranian confectionaries for this night.
Yalda Night’s Customs:
In Yalda night, Persian family members gather in the oldest member’s house. The host serves the guests with the Persian foods mentioned above. They read poems, especially poems from Hafez. They also try to tell fortunes by Hafez’s poems. The elderlies of the family tell stories to the younger members. The oldest woman cuts the watermelon. The redder the watermelon is, the happier the family becomes because the reddish color of a watermelon symbolizes the sun and the upcoming positive events in the winter.
Some other traditions of thisnight, include buying gifts for the newlyweds. There is a tradition in which the groom’s family takes some gifts, including clothes for cold season, watermelon, nuts, and pomegranates to the bride’s house. Indeed, this tradition takes part when the boy and the girl are engaged. After the bride and the groom start to live together, the bride’s family gifts Yalda accessories to them every year.
Yalda is the darkest and longest night of the year that Iranians celebrate. They believe that it is the night where the sun starts to rise and shine more after this night. I have mentioned complete information about what Iranians do at this night. However, since Iran has different provinces with different races and cultures, these traditions can vary from region to region.