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Published:December 21st, 2007 05:37 EST
Yalda, The longest night

Yalda, The longest night

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Shabe Yaldâ (Yalda Night) or Shabe Chelle is an Iranian festival originally celebrated on the Northern Hemisphere`s shortest day of the year, that is, on the eve of the Winter Solstice.

Following the Iranian calendar reform of 1925, which pegged some seasonal events to specific days of the calendar, Yalda came to be celebrated on the 1st day of the 10th month (Dey). Subject to seasonal drift, this day may fall a day before or a day after the actual Winter Solstice.

Yalda, a Syric word imported into the Persian language by the Syric Christians means birth . Due to it being the longest night, "Yalda" was celebrated as the day Mithra was born. The calibration carried on in to Zoroastrianism, ancient Greece, Roman Empire and was adopted by Christians as the birthday of Christ. It is an ancient Indo-European celebration, and a part of the festival was to decorate evergreen trees, which symbolize life and strength, even in today`s Iran. A Winter Solstice festival - Shabe Chelle - had already been celebrated throughout the Iranian world even prior to the introduction of the word Yalda during the early Sassanid Era.

The Egyptian and Persian traditions merged in ancient Rome, in a festival to the ancient god of seedtime, Saturn. The Romans exchanged gifts, partied and decorated their homes with greenery. Following the Persian tradition, the usual order of the year was suspended. Grudges and quarrels forgotten, wars would be interrupted or postponed. Businesses, courts and schools were closed. Rich and poor became equal, masters served slaves, and children headed the family. Cross-dressing and masquerades, merriment of all kinds prevailed. A mock king, the Lord of Misrule, was crowned. Candles and lamps chased away the spirits of darkness.

Another related Roman festival celebrated at the same time was dedicated to Sol Invictus ("the invincible sun" Originally a Syrian deity, this cult was imported by Emperor Heliogabalus into Rome and Sol was made god of the state. With the spread of Christianity, Christmas celebration became the most important Christian festival. In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favored day because it was thought to be Jesus` Baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). In year 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided, with Winter Solstice and the festivals, Sol Invicta and Saturnalia. Many of the rituals and traditions of the pagan festivals were incorporated into the Christmas celebration and are still observed today.  

The Persians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their own Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month Azar is the longest night of the year, when the forces of Ahriman are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. While the next day, the first day of the month "Day" known as "khoram rooz" or "khore rooz" (the day of sun) belongs to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Since the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of Sun over the darkness. The occasion was celebrated in the festival of "Daygan" dedicated to Ahura Mazda, on the first day of the month "Day"

Fires would be burnt all night to ensure the defeat of the forces of Ahriman. There would be feasts, acts of charity and a number of deities were honored and prayers performed to ensure the total victory of sun that was essential for the protection of winter crops. There would be prayers to Mithra (Mehr) and feasts in his honor, since Mithra is the Eyzad responsible for protecting "the light of the early morning" known as "Havangah" It was also assumed that Ahura Mazda would grant people`s wishes, specially those with no offspring had the hope to be blessed with children if performed all rites on this occasion.

Another related Roman festival celebrated at the same time was dedicated to Sol Invictus ("the invincible sun" Originally a Syrian deity, this cult was imported by Emperor Heliogabalus into Rome and Sol was made god of the state. With the spread of Christianity, Christmas celebration became the most important Christian festival. In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favored day because it was thought to be Jesus` Baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). In year 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided, with Winter Solstice and the festivals, Sol Invicta and Saturnalia. Many of the rituals and traditions of the pagan festivals were incorporated into the Christmas celebration and are still observed today.

It is not clear when and how the world "Yalda" entered the Persian language. The massive persecution of the early Christians in Rome brought many Christian refugees into the Sassanin Empire and it is very likely that these Christians introduced and popularized "Yalda" in Iran. Gradually "Shab e Yalda" and "Shab e Cheleh" became synonymous and the two are used interchangeably.

The Iranian Jews, who are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the country, in addition to "Shab e Cheleh" also celebrate the festival of "Illanout" (tree festival) at around the same time. Their celebration of Illanout is very similar to Shab e Cheleh celebration. Candles are lit; all varieties of dried and fresh winter fruits will have to be present. Special meals are prepared and prayers are performed. There are also very similar festivals in many parts of Southern Russia that are identical to "Shab e Cheleh" festival with local variations. Sweet breads are baked in shape of humans and animals. Bon fires are made; dances are performed that resemble crop harvesting. Comparison and detailed studies of all these celebrations no doubt will shed more light on the forgotten aspects of this wonderful and ancient festival, where merriment was the main theme of the festival. Happy Shab e Cheleh. 

See More pics here:

http://www.mehrnews.com/fa/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=607496 


http://www.mehrnews.com/fa/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=607948