Yalda night or Cheleh night is one of the oldest Iranian festivals, which, like Nowruz and Charbansore, have been remembered from the ancient history of Iran. This night is the longest of all the nights of the year and our ancestors celebrated it every year.
Yalda night actually starts from sunset on the last day of autumn i.e. December 30 and ends with sunrise on the first day of winter i.e. January 1. The time of Yalda night is equal to the night of December 21, which of course changes to December 20 in leap years. For example, the date of Yalda night from 1996 to 1998 was equivalent to December 21, but in 99, which was a leap year, this night will be equivalent to December 20, 2020.
Cheleh night, as the longest night of the year, is full of memories for us Iranians; From the time when we used to write essays on Yalda night until the family gathering, setting the Yalda night table, decorating Yalda night pomegranates and listening to poetry and stories under the chair.
Etymology of the words Yalda and Chele
What does Yalda mean?
Yalda is a Syriac word that means birth. Syriac was a language that was popular among Christians. This meaning has been obtained from research in dictionaries and historical books. Aborihan Biruni, an all-round scientist and calendrologist, mentions the Yalda night with the name Milad Akbar and has considered the meaning of this name to be the Milad of the Sun. The book of Al-Baqiyyah is written by him. The book is written in Arabic and currently several Persian translations of it are published. In this book, Abu Rihan has examined the chronology and calendar of different tribes. If you are interested, you can read the ceremonies and celebrations of ancient tribes in this book.
It is not clear exactly when and how the word Yalda entered the Persian language. From history, it appears that early Christians who had a hard life in Rome and some of them migrated to Iran. Due to cultural proximity, this Syriac word finds its way into Persian.
What does Shabbat Chela mean?
Chele night is actually Yalda night. Because from the day after this night, the big winter cold starts, that night is called cold.
In ancient times, Iranians also had a type of holistic calendar. This calendar was mostly used in agriculture and animal husbandry. They knew two times of the year as Cheleh. The summer calamity started in July and the winter calamity started in January. The chelehs were divided into two periods each; Big challah and small challah. The first 40 days were called big chela and the next 20 days were called small chela.
The big winter cold that starts right after Yalda night; It is the beginning of winter and the intensity of the cold is greater. The big chela lasts until the 10th of Bahman. After that, the small chela starts and continues until the first of March. The intensity of the cold is less in the small chela and it causes less damage. The four days of the end of the big chela, and the four days of the beginning of the small chela, are called “four days” because the maximum intensity of cold occurs during this period. The history of Yalda night
The history of Yalda night goes back to the very distant past. But its exact age is not known. Some archaeologists consider the history of Yalda night to be seven thousand years old. They refer to prehistoric pottery. These dishes have animal motifs of Iranian months, such as ram and scorpion. Of course, these motifs are rare in inscriptions and archaeological findings. But archaeologists believe that the Yalda night ritual can be traced back to seven thousand years ago.
With all this, what has been formalized as Yalda night goes back to about 500 years BC. Yalda entered the official calendar of ancient Iranians during the time of Darius I. A calendar derived from the Babylonians and Egyptians.
Reasons for organizing the Yalda night celebration
Ancient Iranian beliefs are based on myths and knowledge of cosmic events. There are different stories about the reason for celebrating Yalda night.
The first narrative; The victory of light over darkness
In ancient times, people’s lives were based on agriculture and animal husbandry, and the effects of weather were considered very important for them. By observation and experience, people had understood the continuous changes of day and night and seasons. After discovering how an event happened, the ever-inquisitive human being looks for their philosophy and why.
They saw the effect of light and darkness and heat and cold on their lives. From the influences they received, they came to the conclusion that light, day and sun are symbols of the creator and goodness. In contrast, night and cold are signs of evil and filth.
From these observations, they had come to believe that night and day, and light and darkness, are in a constant conflict. Longer days were a sign of the victory of light, and shorter days were a sign of the victory of darkness.
In this way, they celebrated the last day of autumn, which is the longest night of the year. Because the day after that, the days will gradually get longer and the creator will win over the demon of light over darkness.
The second narrative: the night of the birth of Mehr and Mitra (the sun) and the beginning of creation
Mehr religion or Mithraism was prevalent in Iran before Zoroastrian religion. This ritual was based on the worship of Mitra (Seal). Mitra is one of the gods of India and Iran. On the one hand, he is a representative of love and affection, and on the other hand, he is the mediator of making agreements. He represents promise keeping and truthfulness. Mehr is also an arbiter between warriors and punishes liars and covenant breakers. The symbol of this god is the ring. Some claim that the history of the wedding ring goes back to this myth. The sun is also a visible symbol of Mitra.
Mehr worshipers consider Yalda night as the birthday of Mitra (God of Mehr). In this way, during a long and cold night, the god Mehr appears in a hollow cave and brings the sun.
In another story, Mitra returns to the world on this night. He lengthens the hours of the day; As a result, the supremacy of the sun appears.
Some studies have come to the conclusion that a prophet is born on Yalda night. This birth happens in the 51st year of the Parthian kingdom, which is equal to 196 AD. A prophet is born in the sea at night when two dolphins take him out of the water. It has had a special importance in the water seal ritual.
About the names of the months Azar and Di, they say: “Azer (the element of fire) represents Izad or the Minoan angel. This deity was considered sacred and important in the Zoroastrian tradition and Mehr worship. The holy fire in fire temples is the manifestation of this god. On the other hand, Day, which is the beginning of winter, was considered evil and demonic. Day is actually the same demon named after the coldest month of winter. Therefore, Azar is the symbol of Ahura Mazda and Di is the symbol of Ahriman. Contrast between fire, light and sanctity with darkness, cold and filth.
Some believe that the name of the month Di comes from the Mithraic religion and means father and God. Because with the initiation of De Mitra, he overcomes the devil.
At first glance, it seems that the birth night of Mehr must be in the month of Mehr; Or on the sunniest days of the year! It is true that we are at the beginning of the coldest days of the year, but the logic behind this myth makes it believable. The lengthening of the days and the shortening of the nights indicate the rebirth of the sun.
The customs of love worship did not disappear after Zoroastrianism became popular, but became a part of their ceremonies. Zoroaster called the great god Ahura Mazda and divided the gods into two groups, Ahurai and Divani. One of these Ahura gods was Mehr (Sun). Mehr is one of the good gods and a part of Avesta is named after him (Mehr Yasht). It is stated in Mehr Yasht:
“The seal looks at the Iranian from the sky with thousands of eyes so that he does not tell a lie.”
Yalda night and Christianity
Different Christian religions celebrate the birth of Christ on one of the days close to the winter solstice. Their New Year, which starts on the 11th of January, is close to Yalda night. Some historians and archaeologists believe that the Gregorian calendar was a continuation of the Sun’s era with a few changes, which they later attributed to the era of Christ. According to them, this calendar was created in Rome in the 4th century AD.
You may ask, what does Mithraism have to do with Rome and Christianity?! In ancient Rome, the birth of the invincible sun god (Sol Invictus) was celebrated on the day of the winter solstice. This Roman god was a combination of the sun god and Mithras of the Mehr worship religion.
How did Mithraism find its way to Rome? It is said that when Zoroastrianism became the official religion of Iran, Mehr worshipers were limited in Asia Minor. In the first century BC, the Romans conquered Asia Minor. This religion gradually spread in Rome through the prisoners of war. Mithraism or Mithraism gradually opened its place among merchants, soldiers and even Roman emperors; At the beginning of the 4th century, there were more than three hundred Mithraic temples in Italy. At that time, most Romans celebrated Yalda night. Finally, the Roman emperor, Constantine I, because of his interest in Christianity, issued the decree of freedom of this religion in Rome in 313. He changed Mithra’s era to Christ’s era. His argument was that Christians are confused about the date of Jesus’ birth and that Jesus is the embodiment of light. Therefore, the birthday of the sun must be the same as the birth of Christ. and set the birth date of Jesus on December 22; The same day as Mitra’s birthday. This date was later changed to December 25 due to a difference in the calculations of the leap. Previously, the birth of Christ was known as January 6 or 7. Even today, Armenian Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on this day.
Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist, had some opinions about Mithraism. He has extensively explained the effects of Mithraism on Christianity in the book “Symbol of Transformation”. If you are interested in researching more in this field, you will find images and symbols related to this topic in the fifth volume of this collection of works.
Review of Yalda night in historical books
Abu Rihan Biruni, a scientist of the 4th century AH, says in the works of al-Baqiyyah about the night of Yalda: “And the name of this day is Milad Akbar, and it means the winter solstice.” It is said that on this day, the light goes from the limit of scarcity to the limit of abundance, and people begin to appear, and the fairies (demons) turn to wither and perish.
This celebration, i.e. the first day of January, is also called ninety days; Because there is exactly ninety days between it and Nowruz. Dimah and it is also called Khor Mah. The first day of that day is Khurram Rooz (Khorre Rooz) and both this day and this month are in the name of the Great God.
According to the evidence, the selection of this current date as the birth of Christ happened in later centuries, and according to the narration of Abu Rihan Biruni, Milad and Yalda mean the birth of the sun.
Abu Rihan al-Biruni also mentioned in the book of Masoudi’s law: “The first day of December is called Khorram Rooz or Khore Rooz.” Khor Rooz means the day of the sun. The birthday of the invincible sun. This day is attributed to Ahura Mazda and is one of the four days of Digan celebrations (the same name of the day and the month).
According to Abu Rihan Biruni, the old Sistani calendar started from the beginning of winter. Interestingly, the first month is called Christ, which is very similar to Christ, which means Christ in English.
Mohammad Hossein Khalaf Tabrizi is the author of the dictionary of decisive proof. This dictionary was written in 1030 AH and defined Yalda as follows: “Yalda is the first night of winter and the last night of autumn, which is the first of Capricorn and the last of Sagittarius, and it is the longest night in the whole year; On that night or close to that night, the sun enters Capricorn, and it is said that that night is extremely inauspicious and unblessed. Some have said that the 11th Yalda night is serious.
According to Roman documents, this custom was held in ancient Iran in such a way that the old and the pure went to a hill, with new clothes and a special ceremony, they asked the sky to send that great leader for the salvation of people. They believed that the signs of the birth of that savior would be a star that would appear on top of a mountain called Firuzi Mountain, which had a very beautiful tree (cypress or pine), and Mobad the Great prayed for this, a part of which remained in Bahman Yasht: “On that night, when my Lord appears, a sign will come from Malik, a star will fall from the sky, just as my leader will arrive and his star will show.”
Shab Cheleh (Yalda) in terms of astronomy
Since the beginning of summer, every day the sun rises a little closer to the south than yesterday. Similarly, at sunset, it sets a little closer to the south than before. This event causes the sun to tilt more towards the south from the center of the sky every day and sunrise and sunset occur earlier. The result is the shortening of the day and the increase of the time of darkness. On the 1st of January, the sun reaches its lowest southern point at sunrise, i.e. 23.5 degrees east. This position of the earth is called winter solstice. From this day on, the direction of the sunrise will be reversed. That is, the points of sunrise and sunset are farther from the south and closer to the north. In the same way, the days get longer and the nights get shorter. This event will be repeated on July 1.
What are the customs of Yalda night?
The customs of Yalda night have not changed much over time.
They used to sit around the chair. Before that, they used to gather around the fire and now the Bukhari heat the assembly. In the past, fire was a symbol of the sun, and setting up fire was done to protect it. Of course, some people believe that they used to light the fire to get rid of evil and darkness. The task of this fire was to destroy and drive away darkness and demonic forces.
Parables or reading stories on Yalda night
Parable, which is a kind of poetry reading and story reading, was performed in ancient times. In this way, families would gather on this night and the elders would tell stories to everyone.
They are like small stories and unreal stories. Most of its heroes are animals, fairies, and fairies, and they are told or written for the entertainment and pleasure of children.
In every part of the country, stories related to their own culture are more popular. For example, Azerbaijanis read the story of Hossein Kurd Shabestri, and Khorasanis tell stories more than the stories of the Shahnameh.
Hafez horoscope on Yalda night
Usually, on the nights of Yalda, the family hits Divan Hafez with taffali. Hafez’s Yalda night fortune telling is as follows: the audience intends to make a fortune and the elder of the assembly says this or something similar: “O Hafez Shirazi, you are the discoverer of every secret, I am looking for a fortune teller, look at me…”
Then he opens Lai Diwan. The sonnet on the right is the answer to Tafal. If it is in the middle of the ghazal, the horoscope is read from the beginning of the ghazal, which is on the back page. Three verses of the next sonnet will be a sign of fortune telling. After reading the ghazal, he interprets the horoscope. If the content of the poem is positive, the omen is considered good and if not, it is considered bad. Since most of Hafez’s lyrics have a mystical, romantic and hopeful content, horoscopes are usually encouraging.
Another integral part of the Yalda night is Shahnameh reading. This custom has been common in Iran for a long time. The charm of reciting the Shahnameh is multiplied in the way of narration. Unfortunately, this tradition is dying. You must be very lucky to have such a person in your family.
Yalda dinner table
One of the most attractive rituals of Yalda night or Chele night is the table and its food. Yalda night meal includes special fruits, special nuts and other snacks. In ancient times, they used to spread a table called Meezd on Shabbat Cheleh. They put fresh and dry fruits, nuts, or so-called Zoroastrian Lurk on the table. Lerk was one of the main components of this table, and in fact, it was considered the feast of this celebration. Among the other components of this table, we can mention fire bowl, incense burner, incense burner, and balsam. Barsam is a tool for praying which is made of a special plant branch or brass and silver metal.
Fruits of Yalda night
Fruits are the main part of the Yalda table. Red fruits play the main role in this table. The red color of these fruits symbolizes the sun.
Pomegranate is the main fruit of the Yalda dinner table. The ancients considered pomegranate to be the fruit of fertility and blessing. They got this meaning from its many seeds. Pomegranate is also a symbol of happiness and sun due to its red color. In fact, eating pomegranate on Yalda night was because of the belief in its contagious magic effect. That is, by resorting to pomegranate and eating it, they would get the blessing from its many seeds and increase their fertility power. In the same way, one of the fruits that are put in the Yalda bride’s khuanche is pomegranate.
This fruit has been known as a sacred fruit since ancient times. Pomegranate has a special place even in the major religions of the world. It is also mentioned in legends and myths. In the Zoroastrian religion, pomegranate is one of the Minoan trees and is considered one of the holy and blessed elements. Zoroastrians use its branches and fruit in their religious ceremonies.
Pomegranate is also a holy fruit from the point of view of Muslims and it is mentioned as a heavenly fruit in the Holy Quran. Eating this fruit is recommended by religious elders.
Watermelon, like pomegranate, is a special fruit for the Yalda table. But isn’t it strange to eat watermelon in the first cold? It must be said that we all know that watermelon is a summer fruit; So watermelon is a symbol of the sun in addition to the rose and is a reminder of the heat of summer.
It is believed that if they eat some watermelon at night; They will be safe from cold and disease throughout the big and small challah. Watermelon, like pomegranate, is a winged fruit and a symbol of blessing and abundance.
Among other fruits of Yalda table, we can mention all kinds of autumn fruits. In the past, along with pomegranate and watermelon, seasonal fruits were also put on the table. Fruits such as oranges and citrus fruits, apples, persimmons, pears and even pumpkins can have a place on the Yalda table.
Yalda night snacks and nuts
On this night, snacks and nuts are more important than dinner. In the past, it was not easy to store fruits for a long time; Many fruits were dried for storage and consumption in other seasons.
Yalda night nuts
Nuts such as pistachios, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts are the main components of nuts for Yalda night. Along with these, figs and dried berries are also present. Peas and raisins have been among the nuts of Yalda since ancient times. Apart from these, wheat and roasted chickpeas, hemp, watermelon seeds and pumpkin are among the nuts of Yalda night.
Snacks are also added to Yalda night nuts. Today, Basleq and Pashmak are also sweets on this table.
It is true that nuts are known as the healthiest snacks; But be aware of its high calories and the wide variety of foods on the Yalda table.
One of the popular snacks on Yalda night is dried fruits. A suitable replacement for unhealthy snacks and large volume of industrial sweets. In addition to the possibility of buying dried fruits and nuts, you can prepare dried fruit leaves even at home. There are a few simple ways to do this.
Using the sun is the most common method of drying fruits. Leave the fruits in the sun for a few days after crushing.
There is also a fruit drying machine in the market. It is easy to work with them and they will deliver the dried leaves to you within 24 hours.
Drying using heat and air flow, which is done with low heat and usually in the oven.
Another method is drying with sugar. In this method, the fruits are dried by soaking or boiling them in a sugar syrup.
Fruits can also be dried by frying. This method is very suitable for drying starchy and low moisture fruits such as bananas.
If you live in an apartment, you can also prepare a fruit sheet using a heater. Peel the fruits whose skin is inedible. Cut them into rings. Put them on foil or a tray and put them on the stove. You can also use a fan. It is better to have the heater in a dark place. If it is not possible, cover the tray with a clean white cloth so that direct light does not reach the leaves. After a day, turn the fruit leaves so that they don’t stick to the dish. After three to four days, your dried fruits are ready to eat.
Another method for those who have limited space. Circle the fruits like the previous method. Spread a clean white cloth on a surface above the ground. Pour the fruits on it. The place should be dark or cover it as before. Do the same as before and return the fruits a day later. This method is more natural and better. It takes between 7 and 8 days to prepare the sheets in this method. So get to work because there is no time left.One of the most attractive rituals of Shab Chele is the Yalda night table and its food. Edibles include special nuts, dried fruits such as dried berries, figs, peach and apricot leaves, fruits such as watermelon and pomegranate, and all kinds of sweets. All these have a symbolic aspect and are a sign of blessing, health, abundance and happiness.