Posted on: December 17, 2019

Shabe Yalda – A Winter Solstice Celebration

The longest night of the year is upon us, and with it comes celebration! Shabe Yalda is an ancient Persian tradition that commemorates the occasion with food, poetry, music, family and friends.

This painting depicts two women dancing around the symbols of Shabe Yalda including watermelon, pomegranate, and other fruits.

Shabe Yalda, the Persian celebration of the winter solstice, directly translates to the dark night. It is an ancient tradition that dates back to Zoroastrian times and continues to be practiced today. The custom started as a way to stay safe in the midst of evil spirits that were said to run rampant on longest night of the year. To avoid the misfortune of a demon’s curse, Persians stayed awake through the night. In order to do so, family and friends gather in merriment to keep each other energized through the darkness. Some of the entertainment includes storytelling, music, poetry, and most importantly food.

This image depicts a family gathered around a table covered in pomegranate, watermelon, grapes, and tea. The eldest family member reads from a book as the rest of the family look on.

Participants of Shabe Yalda have followed the same traditions for hundreds of years. Elders of the family share personal histories and cultural anecdotes. The poetry of beloved Persian poets such as Rumi and Hafez is read aloud. The “fal-e Hafez” is also a big part of the evening. People look for guidance and foresight using Hafez’s Divination. The process involves meditating on the topic that one needs clarity on. With eyes close, one then opens the book to a random page. The chosen poem then gives the necessary advice for the seeker.

As with many celebrations, the feast is a vital and symbolic part of the occasion. Fruits, such as watermelon and pomegranate are a must-have in this case. As symbols of good health, these fruits are saved from the summer harvest. They represent the change in season and a commemoration of the year’s yield. It is also common to find an abundance of wine, dried fruits, and nuts.

This miniature painting shows a harem of women celebrating Shabe Yalda by playing music, dancing, and eating various fruits.

Whether you are celebrating Shabe Yalda or Yuletide, Orley Shabahang wishes you and yours a happy and healthy winter solstice!