Yalda Night, Iranian Winter Festival

The hottest family party on the Coldest Night of the Year

Yalda Night, also called Shabe Yalda or Shabe Chele, is the longest night of the year between the last day of fall and the first day of winter, which falls on December 21 every year. This night is one of the most famous and biggest Iranian festivals.

The Stories Behind Yalda Night, The End of Dark Night

Yalda is a Syriac word meaning the birth of the sun. Yalda Night, the most famous Iranian festival, has a long history and many untold Persian stories. Long ago, in the third century, some Syrian Christians fled to the Persian land. They sought protection from religious oppression and brought their language and customs to Iran. For more than eight centuries, the Yalda Night has been celebrated by Iranians. Because during the dark and long nights, they could protect themselves from evil and look forward to longer days and more hours of sunshine.

I learned the lore of Yalda,
that bedeviled moths flung themselves at candle flames,
and wolves climbed mountains looking for the sun.

Reborn Sun

Moreover, the ancient Persians believed that Yalda Night was the time of the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light. It brought brightness and warmth into people’s lives. One of the most famous stories related to Yalda Night is Nane Sarmā (Persian grandmother of winter). Nane Sarmā, as the main role of winter’s chill, is a legendary figure in Persian folklore. She is the lovely grandmother who has a basket full of flowers, nuts, sweets, and different fruits in her hands. Nane Sarmā is the wife of Amu Nowruz (Uncle Nowruz) that comes in the Iranian new year. It is believed that Nane Sarmā sees Uncle Nowruz once a year. She cleans the house and waits for Uncle Nowruz. Uncle Nowruz comes, drinks some tea, and leaves her a marigold; he disappears again. So Nane Sarmā waits another year until she sees him again. That’s great love!

When I was older, I read in my poetry books that Yalda was the starless night tormented lovers kept vigil, enduring the endless dark,
waiting for the sun to rise and bring with it their loved ones.
But in my idea Yalda on the night of lover, the night should spend with beloved.

What is Yalda Night in Persian Culture?

 On Yalda night, families come to spend time together, have a delicious meal, sit around the table (called Korsi in Persian), and celebrate Yalda Night until after midnight. Iranian wear colorful green and red clothes for this memorable night. Fortunately, people keep this ancient custom alive for years.

Eating, drinking tea, lighting fires, singing, laughing, playing games, telling Persian stories, reading Hafez poems, and Shahnameh are inseparable parts of Yalda Night. Last but not least, grandparents and older people are appreciated by children and adults in this long night.

Must Eat Food and Fruit on Yalda Night

Iranian people set a magnificent table for an unforgettable Yalda Night Festival in all cities of Iran. The table for Yalda Night is set with fruits like pomegranates, watermelons, apples, oranges, tangerines, persimmons, cucumbers, dried fruits, chocolates, mixed nuts, lima beans, baked pumpkin, and many other things available in winter. Choose whatever your heart desires!

The Narrative Rule of the Yalda Night

Most Iranian families prepare fancy dinners at home, and the hosts provide a delicious meal to their guests. As a sumptuous dinner, Sabzi Polo ba Mahi, rice with vegetables and fish, is the most popular food served on Yalda Night. But some people do not want to cook at home and prefer to go out with their household for a Yalda dinner to dine in restaurants and make their Shabe Yalda merry and frolic. During Yalda Night, the table is nicely set, and the restaurants are open till late in the night to serve food and drinks to the guests.

  • Why are pomegranate and watermelon so famous on Yalda Night?

Pomegranates and watermelons are known to be associated with Yalda Night. These two represent the life cycle and symbolize health, while dried fruits and nuts symbolize prosperity and wealth.

Steps to Celebrate Yalda Night Like an Iranian?

If you want to celebrate Yalda Night, the longest night of the year, like an Iranian, follow these simple steps:

  • Set the table with pomegranates, watermelons, and persimmons.
  • Get together with your family.
  • Stay up late.
  • Drink tea.
  • Read prayer slowly and quietly for Hafez, close eyes until “this scripture will root in you and other words will begin to rise from your heart and interact with the scripture.”
  • Cooking delicious food is also a fun part of Yalda Night.

Some people believe that if you ate watermelon in the Night of Yalda,
you wouldn’t get thirsty the coming summer.


How Cook Sabzi Polo Ba Mahi

If you want to cook the dinner of Yalda Night, first prepare the ingredients for Sabzi polo ba Mahi: Basmati rice, salt, pepper, turmeric, potato, vegetables, water, oil, and fish.

     It would be best to wash the rice until the water is clear. And soak the white basmati rice in lukewarm water for 1 hour to 5 hours with three tablespoons of salt added. Then pour 8 cups of water into a pot to bring it to a boil. Add the rinsed rice to the boiling water for about 5-7 minutes. Then pour the rice into a colander and rinse it with cold water. Add the rice’s chopped fresh herbs like leeks, dill, parsley, coriander, and fenugreek. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil or melt butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

      Do not forget to put a thin layer of potatoes or a layer of thin Lavash bread on the bottom of the rice. Add the rinsed rice and mixed herbs to the pot and steam the rice over medium-low heat for about 50-60 minutes. Spread a quarter cup of melted butter or oil over the rice. About 30 minutes before the rice is done, prepare the fish. Wash the fish under cold water. Soak the fish with salt, pepper, and turmeric. After heating the oil in a pan, add the fish to the hot oil and fry it for 7 minutes on each side until it is crispy and medium golden. There are various ways to serve sabzi polo ba Mahi. It is often served with lemon juice, pickle, and sour orange or yogurt.

Shopping in Shabe Yalda, A Persian Celebration

It is exciting to walk the streets on Yalda Night and visit the fruit markets in every town and village across the country. The lights in the street markets are brightly lit. There are numerous beautiful and lively open-air marketplaces. These open-air markets are a popular destination for tourists. People love to go through the street markets on this starless night. Various nuts, sweets, groceries, fruits, and vegetables are sold in colorful markets. And the prices are usually lower than in department stores, supermarkets, and shopping malls.

Spend one more minute together…

The Yalda Night, Persian Christmas, and Mithraism

What are the facts about Christmas and the Yalda Night? Historians believe that Yalda Night and Christmas are somehow closely related, as they said, “Christmas stems from the ancient and pagan Persian tradition.” Historically, Mithraism conquered the West and Christianity and consequently brought Christmas. In fact, Yalda night was “a holy day for worshipers.” Many of the Christian practices and rituals of Mithraism have changed. One of the documentaries available is Yalda; the Yalda Night has turned into Christmas. Of course, this topic also has many opponents. But it is enough that both of them are trying to create a better world, that the family comes together, and that they are full of joy, happiness, and peace. They are directly related to each other.

Yalda Night Registered As Intangible Cultural Heritage of Iran on UNESCO

Due to the rich history of Yalda Night in Persian culture, Iran has been seeking to register Yalda Night for many years UNESCO. Yalda Night, a symbol of equality, triumph of light over darkness, peace, and rapprochement, also plays a vital role in Central Asia: Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan.

In general, Yalda, as a memorable night in Persian culture, is a mixture of unique events, stories, good wishes, delicious food, hot tea, sweets, poetry, and happy moments. Iranians spend the whole cold night in a bright and warm room near a fire so that nothing bad will happen to them. Yalda Night brings this message: the victory of light over darkness.

Land of Persia gets ready to celebrate the Night of Yalda…
Yalda,  the celebrations of winter solstices

Persian Tourism Service