Shabe Yalda – A Persian 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. 

Shabe Yalda Celebration Painting/illustration

Shabe Yalda, the Persian celebration of the winter solstice, directly translates to the 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 the longest night of the year. To avoid the misfortune of a demon’s curse, Persians stayed awake through the night. 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.

Shabe Yalda Celebration dishes and poetry

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 closed, one then opens the book to a random page. The chosen poem then gives the necessary advice for the seeker. 

Shabe Yalda Celebration more poetry and plaiting

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.

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