Shab-e Yalda (Eve of Yalda)
The Eve of the Birth of Mithra, the Sun God.
'Shab-e Yalda', celebrated on 21 December, has great significance in the Iranian calendar. It is the eve of the birth of Mithra, the Sun God, who symbolized light, goodness and strength on earth. Shab-e Yalda is a time of joy.
Yalda is a Syriac word meaning birth. Mithra-worshippers used the term 'yalda' specifically with reference to the birth of Mithra. As the longest night of the year, the Eve of Yalda (Shab-e Yalda) is also a turning point, after which the days grow longer. In ancient times it symbolized the triumph of the Sun God over the powers of darkness.
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 Hafiz) 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.
Because Shab-e Yalda is the longest and darkest night, it has come to symbolize many things in Persian poetry; separation from a loved one, loneliness and waiting. After Shab-e Yalda a transformation takes place - the waiting is over, light shines and goodness prevails.