It is holiday season, most of the corners around the world are decorated with lights, candles, Christmas trees and so on. But if you travel to Iran in this time, instead of Christmas tree, you find watermelon everywhere, and everywhere is decorated either with watermelon or pomegranate symbols. But what does it mean?? Watermelon in winter??? Seriously?? How?
Every year, on December 21st, Iranian people around the world prepare themselves to celebrate one of the old ancient celebration together, which is called Yalda (literally mean birth). They celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness. Yalda night is not only celebrated in Iran, but also people in other countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan celebrate this night. Yalda night, is the longest and darkest night of the year, symbolize many things in Persian poetry; separation from a loved one, loneliness and waiting. After Yalda night, a transformation takes place – the waiting is over, light shines and goodness prevails.
Family members get together (most often in the house of the eldest member around a KORSI) and stay awake all night long in Yalda night. Foods play a major role in this night, now you can guess why you see watermelon everywhere around this time. Iranian believe that eating watermelon can guarantee them from illness during cold season. Moreover, Pomegranates are reminders of the cycle of life, the rebirth and revival of generations. During this night, people also read Hafez poetry. People make a wish, open a book of Hafez and the first poem they see is the interpretation of the wish and whether and how it will come true.
But what seems really interesting is that, in this specific time of the year, you can find the trace of similarity between rituals and traditions among all nations around the world. Winter solstices is the origin of many rituals, traditions and ceremonials around the world, you can find even the roots of this phenomena in the word of each rites; Yalda celebrating in ancient Iran, Joel (or Yule) saluting in Europe. Yalda means birth, however, the origins of Joel is unknown, although people believe that Joel is derived from Joy. On the other hand, Swedish people say Jul for Christmas, which is really close to Joel. Surprisingly, Joel sounds like Noël in French, which is originated from natalis in Latin, which means birth. Do you think that all of these words using for the same timeline of the year are coincidence?
Let’s embark on the time machine and travel backward to the long time ago, when Mithraism, a widespread cult before Christianity and even Zoroastrianism was practiced in Persian ancient world. In this religion, Yalda night is the birthday of Mithra or Sun. One of the common stories said, Mithraism was publicized in ancient Rome in 100 BC by war captives. It becomes worldwide creed by 4th century and over 300 temples were constructed in Italy at those time. By converting the first Roman Empire, Constantine the Great to Christianity, Christians got freedom to worship. He nominated Yalda as the birthday of Christ, which is the symbol of light in Christianity, and finally “sun”day become their holy day.
It is important to keep in mind that by changing calendars during years, the beginning of winter is also altered. Hence, Yalda, which was at the same day as Christmas (25th of December) moved to 21th of December.
So, the moral of this story is: No matter, where are we from, which religion we practice, we live all on the same planet and we celebrate the birth of the light, the sun and the life.
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