Eve of Yalda or Chelleh
|Iran’s unique geographic and historic position
within the 5 continents has made it an ideal territory for the
convergence of various cultures and civilizations.
Located in the heart of the Middle East and on the Ancient Silk
Road, it is where the cultures of China and India met the Mesopotamian,
Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures.
is also where different faiths and religions have existed; from
Mithraism and Zoroastrianism to Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and
this mixture, the great Aryan civilization was formed.
Perhaps it was due to this enrichment that Bertrand Russell, the
great modern historian and philosopher, considered the ancient Aryan
culture the greatest and the richest among all cultures with many
colorful customs and ceremonies.
ancient Persians were mostly farmers and shepherds, they celebrated
changes of nature that affected their daily lives.
Among these ceremonies, 4 major festivities that are still
observed are directly related to changes in nature.
Daylight, sunshine and moderate weather were considered the Good
forces; while night, darkness and cold weather were believed to be the
Evil forces. They observed
that days and nights change length throughout the year.
Sometimes days are longer, other times nights are longer. They believed that light and dark and good and evil are in
constant battle and they celebrated the triumph of light over darkness
and good over evil.
4 festivities still observed today are:
No-Rooz (meaning “new day” which is the Persian New Year and
starts on March 21st, the first day of spring.
In fact Persian New Year begins from the very moment of the
spring equinox whatever time of the day or night that may be.
It is the most important festivity observed by all Iranians
regardless of their religious belief and is the celebration of the
arrival of spring and the revival of nature, which promises happiness
and prosperity. No-Rooz
celebrations start a few days before the arrival of the New Year and
last until the 13th day of the New Year.
On the eve of the last Wednesday of the old year people jump over
fire hoping its light and warmth will rid them of all old illnesses and
bring a healthy glow to their cheeks. The
festivities are completed on the 13th day of the New Year
when everyone goes to nature and picnics outdoors to get rid of the bad
omen of the 13th day of the year.
next festivity is called Jashn-e Mehregan, celebrated on October 2 which
coincides with the 10th day of the Persian month of Mehr; thus the name
Mehregan. It is the
celebration of the end of the harvest season and a call on the good
forces of light and warmth to overcome the upcoming months of winter and
darkness and cold.
third major festivity is the Eve of Yalda, which is what we are
celebrating today. Yalda,
also called Chelleh, is the longest night of the year (about 14 hours)
and is on the eve of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.
From the next day, days begin to get longer and light will
gradually triumph over darkness. Celebration
of Yalda is over 3000 years old. It
dates back to the pre-Zoroastrian time of Mithraism or worship of the
Sun God or Mithra. The Sun
God overcomes the darkness from the first day of winter and thus is
reborn. In fact the word
Yalda has a Syrianic root which means “birth.”
Zoroastrians also called this night “Varjavand” or divine
fourth festivity called Jashn-e Sadeh, takes place on January 30th ,
which coincides with 10th day of the
Persian month of Bahman. Sadeh
comes from the Persian word “sad” which means 100.
Jan 30th is exactly 50 days before Persian New Year on March 21.
That means there are 50 days and 50 nights left before winter
ends and the old year turns into a fresh new year.
was one of the most important festivity for ancient Persians.
It was celebrated at nighttime and was a happy occasion.
Relatives gathered at the house of the elder of the family and
celebrated with dancing, merry making, and showing their love for one
another. They typically ate
fruits, especially watermelon, melon and pomegranate.
Also nuts and roasted watermelon seeds were served.
mother always tells us her childhood memories of the Eve of Yalda
ceremony. The family
gathered around what was called a “Korsi”.
Korsi was how they kept warm in winter before the time of oil,
gas, and electric heating. Korsi was a large square shaped wooden table
with short legs, like a coffee table with layers of blankets and quilts
and sheets spread on them and a heating element, usually a brazier of
burning charcoal, put under the Korsi for warmth.
People sat around the Korsi and kept their legs warm under the
covers. On top of the Korsi they put all the food including sweets, nuts
and fruits. They read
poetry, said stories, and played games.
is not certain when the word “Yalda” has entered the Persian
language. Its roots being
from Syriac language meaning “birth” has created different theories
about the origin of the
word. One interesting
theory is that Mithraism flourished in the late Roman Empire and the
birth of Sun God or Mithra was celebrated in splendor by the Romans.
Later on when Christianity took over, the birth of Jesus Christ
and the birth of the Sun God were combined and celebrated as Christmas.
At some point the world Yalda may have been introduced to Persian
language by the Christians who came to Persia.
matter how we celebrate and in what language, the important fact is that
at this time of the year, we are all celebrating the birth of light and
warmth that shall bring more peace and prosperity to our lives.
Yalda, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all.