Yalda; A Sedated Celebration
I am a winter baby. And although there’s nothing I love more than sunshine and long days, soft breezes and blue skies, I had to create some kind of friendship with the colder months. Especially since Germany hosted summers as short and shy as its winters domineering.
Last year I spent my Christmas holidays/birthday with my now in-laws, a big Christmas-loving family, where I was drenched in rich German traditions accompanied by Spanish customs. I received double gifts, participated in Secret Santa games, dressed up for church and devoured meals I had heard about from my now husband.
Unfortunately this Christmas, being our first holiday season as a married couple, is spent apart. With him in ever-warm Miami where Palm trees show off their trimmings, politely stepping in for Evergreens and Christmas shopping is done in summer dresses and shorts, and me in Iran spending some well-deserved time with my family before I fly for Florida.
The 21st of December marks the last day of Autumn, making it the longest night of the year. Persians celebrate the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, known to us as Yalda, with watermelons (the last remaining pieces of summer), pomegranates and nuts, gathered together on the longest and darkest night of the year, cracking open pistachios and reading poetry.
Yalda, a Persian word, imported into the language by the Syric Christians is used interchangeably with Chelle, with the latter word meaning forty, designating the first forty days of winter that were celebrated in Ancient Persia right before the next prominent Zoroastrian festival; Jashn e Sadeh.
Faal-e Hafiz which consists of opening the Divan of Hafiz, while everyone "makes a wish" to put it superficially, and reading the poem that randomly falls on the opened page is a common tradition during the Yalda celebrations. Hafiz known to be a spiritual poet with a strong understanding of philosophy, allows his audience to believe that he has such a generic yet detailed description and outlook in his sonnets that anyone can relate, finding their answers in each stanza.
And while most of the world is getting hyped about the Christmas holidays and New Year, pampering their loved ones with gifts, Persians use these days to slow down, reflect, be mindful and embrace change, of seasons and of life, with Yalda symbolising the initiation of this sedation.
Happy Yalda to all my Persians and a beautiful winter solstice to everyone… Happiest of holidays!