The Mithraists believed that this night is the night of the birth of Mithra, the Persian angel of light and truth
As the cold weather slowly marks its return, Torontonians await the coming of Winter holidays. One of the many diverse cultural events taking place during these exciting times is Shab-e-Yalda (The night of Yalda). Yalda will be a night of celebrations, poetry, laughter, dance and music; a night when Iranian families and the community come together to commemorate an ancient tradition.
In Toronto, a city that holds a large Iranian population, Shab-e-Yalda has always been celebrated by many. The night holds cultural significance and gives the Iranian community the perfect reason to celebrate the upcoming Western holidays. Keeping the tradition alive, the Iranian Canadian Centre for Art and Culture (ICCAC) is hosting a Yalda Night Celebration on December 22, 2012. Held at the Hilton Garden Inn, this year’s Yalda celebration will be a night to remember. Not only will it bring the tradition of Yalda to life, but it will also be a night of fundraising for Tirgan, the world’s largest celebration of Iranian art and culture.
Shab-e-Yalda, or the Winter Solstice, is a celebration of the longest night of the year, and the moment Winter is born. Similar to other Persian celebrations, Yalda is an important date in the solar calendar, marking the change of seasons. The tradition of Yalda dates back to the Persian religion of Mithraism. The word Yalda means birth, and is believed to symbolize the birth of the Sun God, Mithra. Yalda is the darkest night of the year, when evil is most powerful. The following day marks the victory of good over evil, as the days become longer and nights shorter.
In our modern times, Shab-e-Yalda still remains a rich tradition celebrated in Persian households around the world; a time for families and friends to gather, tell stories and read poetry from the book of Hafez. Eating pomegranates and watermelon is a must while an assortment of nuts and seeds are passed around. Music often fills the room as talented musicians play and others dance joyfully.
Whether Iranians celebrate Yalda at an intimate home gathering or join a celebration with the community, the tradition will go on. It is remarkable that such an old festivity is still honoured today. For those excited to commemorate this night with the Toronto Iranian community, visit tirgan.ca/yalda for information and tickets. Let us keep this rich Iranian tradition alive!
As the 13th century poet Sa’adi infamously wrote, “The true morning will not come, until the Yalda Night is gone”.