Yalda...the last night of autumn and the beginning of winter, is another age-old tradition being observed in every Iranian family in Iran. It is the longest night of the Iranian calender year, and celebrated on the night of December 21st, an ancient tradition welcoming the birthday of the Goddess of Love, Mithra.
The word Yalda originated from the Syriac word of "birth" and imported into the Persian language. It has its origin in ancient Persia and has come to symbolize a tradition observed since a thousand years ago in any Iranian family.
On Yalda night, members of the family usually stay together, the elders will tell old stories, play traditional games and eat dried and fresh fruits symbolizing various things. Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life - the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of the fruit symbolizes "birth" or "dawn" and their bright red seeds the "glow of life."
Watermelons, apples, grapes and persimmon are also special fruits served on Yalda night and all are symbols of freshness, warmth, love, kindness and happiness.
Iranians believe those who begin winter by eating summer fruits would not fall ill during the cold season. Therefore, eating watermelons is one of the most important traditions during this night.
Since Yalda night is the longest and darkest night of the year, it has come to symbolize many things in Persian poetry - separation from a loved one, loneliness and waiting. After the night is over a transformation takes place - the waiting is over, a new life begins and good triumphs over evil.
Reading poems of Hafez is one of the most familiar activities on Yalda night. However it is now only common among older generations while the younger generation prefer different kinds of joy.
Coinciding with the beginning of winter, Yalda is an occasion to celebrate the end of the crop season. It is today an event to thank the Lord for all blessings and to pray for prosperity in the next year.