Shab-e Yalda, the “Persian Christmas”

This article is also available in: Italiano

One of the most important and particular moments of the whole Persian world, a very strong bond between Christianity and Zoroastrianism both in terms of meaning and form. Impossible not to tell you about Yalda, the longest night of the year, whose tradition has its origins in the dawn of time.

Yalda’s night

The night of Yalda falls between the last day of Azar and the first of Dey, lunar months that correspond to a date between 20, 21 and 22 December. This moment is very important for the Zoroastrian culture and cult, strongly linked to the sun and its changes, so much so that, in reality, this night is considered particularly unfortunate.

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Falling on the winter solstice, in fact, symbolizes the darkest moment of the whole year, a period in which, according to this faith, Ahriman and his host of demons are at their maximum power and effectiveness.

Symbolisms and conviviality

This entity represents something very similar to the monotheistic Devil, a similar figure for many connotations, including that of representing the “head” of evil entities. Precisely for this reason it is traditional to get together with family or friends, in order to spend most of the time awake and thus avoid bad luck.

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Typical elements of this night are the Divan of Hafiz, the watermelon and the korban. The first is probably the most well-known work of Persian literature, so much so that it is traditional to read some passages even earlier during the Nowruz, considered the night of the “rebirth of lights over darkness”. The second element has the particular function of celebrating summer even on the longest night of the year; in addition to watermelon, in fact, other foods can also be eaten, but all should aim to remember the heat and the light, in order to wish luck for the coming year. The last is a particular table, now no longer in use, under which a brazier was placed and around which all the members of the family and their guests gathered; perfect place to share joys and warmth, especially in the darkest time of the year.

A “Persian Christmas”?

Initially the name of this festival was Shab-e Cellah, or “night of the 40”, to indicate the beginning of the first 40 days of winter; the name Yalda actually has more recent origins and closely linked to Christmas. In fact, between the first and third centuries, many Syriac Christians fled to the Sassanid and Parthian Empire, taking their faith and traditions with them to places for which they would suffer less persecution. Here Zoroastrism came for the first time in contact with the figure of Jesus and his miraculous birth, called Yalda in Syriac. Given the similarity of meanings and the coincidence in time, the Shab-e Cellah was increasingly called Shab-e Yalda, so much so as to make these two terms with such different origins true synonyms.

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Even if the Nowruz carries meanings even more similar to the Christmas of Yalda’s night, it is impossible not to notice between the latter and Christmas a very deep closeness of meaning, almost a warning to remember the closeness of the Persian world to the European one rather than to the Semitic one. or Indian. An opportunity to celebrate a hidden union that has continued for millennia.

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