HappyYalda Night on December, 21st 2014; what’s this ancient Iranian tradition all about? By Mir Masood Hosseini Yalda Night is the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. The occasion has been celebrated by Iranians for thousands of years. Yalda is originally a word in Seryani (Syriac) language which is the original language of the bible literally meaning “the time of birth”. It's been assumed that it's the night of birthday of Jesus Christ and the origin of Christmas. Yalda takes place at the autumnal equinox (when the sun crosses the celestial equator) which is the last night of autumn and the first day of winter after which days start to become longer. Deity Mithra (Mehr) as depicted in an ancient mosaic with mythological symbols
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Ancient Iranians observed the sky with great interest believing in celestial effect in their own daily lives. Therefore the night-sky was probably equal to a real-life television. That's why stars and celestial objects were given names and they became source of thousands of mythological legends. Although Iranians all around the world celebrate the occasion eating pomegranates, watermelons, dried-nuts and fruits; the Yalda Night is not just about eating and feasting. It's a good occasion to think about the change that's been taking place for millions of years. Questions such as: - Why is the universe designed the way it is? Why is it expanding; dark, and so vast? - What is humans' role and intended functions in this huge creation? Yalda is celebrated because it's the time when the light becomes victorious over darkness. Light and darkness are two main elements of dualism in Zoroastrianism, presumably world's oldest organized religion. It's been narrated that three Iranian astronomers predicted (had a vision) about that particular date and traveled all the way to Nazareth to witness the birth of the Savior, Messiah, or JesusChrist. They are referred to as the Biblical Magi. Graphical depiction of the Yalda Night December solstice explained by picture
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Iranians celebrate Yalda gathering in the house of an elderly in the family. Everyone brings along some food; Fruits, especially pomegranates and watermelons, dried fruits and nuts are a must. People used to sit around a special table that is heated from underneath with a blanket on top of it called Korsi, and tell jokes and stories until the dawn. The Eve of the Yalda has great significance in the Persian/Iranian calendar. It is the eve of the birth of Mithra, the goddess of the Sun, who symbolized light, goodness and strength on earth. Also known as Shab-e Chelle; Shab-e Yalda is a time of joy. As the longest night of the year, the Eve of Yalda is also a turning point, after which the days grow longer and symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness. In Sassanid era, Zoroastrianism became Persia's official religion, but Mithra's importance remained undiminished. This is evident from the bas-reliefs as Naghsh-e Rostam and Taghebostan. At Naghsh Rostam, Anahita bestows the royal diadem upon Narseh, the Sassanid King. At the investiture of Ardeshir I, Ahura Mazda bestows this diadem to the new King. At Tagh-e Bostan too, AhuraMazda is again conferring the royal diadem upon Ardeshir II. Mithra is always present as a witness to these ceremonies. Over the centuries Mithraism spread to Greece and Ancient Rome via Asia Minor, gaining popularity within the ranks of the Roman army. In the 4th century AD as a result of errors made in calculating leap years and dates, the birthday of Mithra was transferred to 25 December (Christmas). According to a legend, Mithra was born out of the light that came from within the Alborz Mountains. Ancient Iranians would gather on heights along the mountain range throughout the night to witness this miracle together at dawn. They were known as 'Yar-e Ghar' (Cave Mates). In Iran today, despite of the advent of Islam and Muslim rituals, Shab-e Yalda is still celebrated widely. It is a time when friends and family gather together to eat, drink and read poetry (especially Hafez) until well after midnight. Fruits and nuts are eaten and pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant. The red color in these fruits symbolizes the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life, invoking the splendor of Mithra. A traditional table set for Yalda night with candles, fruits & nuts; the cat is obviously Photoshopped!
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For low-budget occasions, today many people switch to Iranian Laboo (cooked beetroots) which is a popular steaming-hot sweet treat sold by street-vendors during winter-time in Iran. And for the most, we should not forget that the longest night of the year can be harsh on those without a shelter. Therefore, the Yalda is a great time to help the poor people and donate food, warm clothes and best of all; to show them the warmth of our hearts. Children of Labor & Street is an absurd phenomenon in the 21st century. Although some charities and NGO's provide gifts and help to homeless children, such acts of kindness is a human duty. Nevertheless, care for animals; distributing hope and love might be the real spirit behind Yalda. It’s hope that matters; because tomorrow will always be a better and brighter day. Happy Yalda, and Merry Christmas.