The beautiful celebration of Yalda night شب یلدا in Iran, curiously happens around the same time as Christmas. Could there be a correlation between the two festivities?
Some historians believe that Christmas actually derives from the ancient and pagan Persian tradition, Yalda night or ‘Shab e Yalda’ (شب یلدا). What’s certain is both Christmas and Yalda night have to do with the celebration of the Winter Solstice.
Christmas and Yalda Similarities:
Both Christmas and Yalda night derive from the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. The red and green colors, candle lights, eating and drinking, spending time with friends and family, are among the similarities between these two ancient traditions.
Yalda: The meaning and
the tradition of Winter Solstice
Shab-e Yalda شب یلدا (Yalda night) is one of the most ancient celebrations in Iran and it happens around 21 of December which is the Winter Solstice. Yalda night is known as the longest night of the year, thus the beginning of the longer days. The word Yalda originally means ‘birth,’ and in this Persian tradition represents the ‘victory of light over darkness’. That is why in ancient times, Yalda was associated with the birth of Mithra, the Zoroastrian angelic divinity of light.
How is Yalda night (shab e Yalda) celebrated?
Yalda night is a time when families and friends gather, eat, drink, and recite poetry. The presence of the two red fruits, pomogranade and watermelon, are the most symbolic on the “Yalda table”. The color red represents the sun, light, fire, or the energy of life. Also imperative in the ceremony is the presence of mixed nuts (aagil آجیل) and candle light (or some form of fire).
The ritual also includes reciting poetry with friends and family. What is most entertaining during Yalda night is faal e Hafez (فال حافظ). You make a wish and open the book of Hafez randomly and read the poem that Hafez has for you on that page, or ‘your faal’ فال.
The most traditional way of celebrating Yalda is to sit around the Yalda table with the heater underneath, called ‘korsi’ (کرسی). Shab-e-Yalda is also known as Shab-e Chelleh شب چلّه which means ‘fortieth night’ as it happens forty nights into winter.
Winter Solstice was a pagan ceremony which was celebrated also in Rome (and was called “Saturnalia”). This was an important day because it marked the return of the sun, and days getting longer.
“Several customs used in Christmas actually evolve from pagan traditions celebrating the Winter Solstice” says the historian Kenneth C. Davis.
Christmas began in the 4th century when church officials chose to honor the birth of Jesus. They decided to relate the date of Winter Solstice (which was celebrated on December 25th in Rome), to the Nativity of Jesus.
Many traditions used today around Christmas time, such as gift giving and candle lighting, derive from pagan traditions celebrating the Winter Solstice.
Why the decorating trees during Christmas?
In Noth of Europe, Germany and Scandinavian countries where the winter was really serious, the Solstice was an important event. Therefore, they celebrated the return of life by celebrating an evergreen tree.
When Christianity came in, they started to use the evergreen tree, as a symbol of Paradise and started to hang an ‘apple’ on it. This explains the little red ornamental balls on the pine trees today.