The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (MK).
HS: So can you tell me about Yaldā?
MK: So it’s the beginning of the winter. So in the winter, nights are going to be longer and days are going to be shorter. They say the night is longer by one minute, so in that one minute, Persians celebrate it like crazy. They get fruits, they get pomegranate, they gather together. Lots of craziness. But you basically stay up all night to enjoy the night getting one minute longer.
HS: So is it more of a family celebration or is it celebrated in a group setting with the surrounding community?
MK: You can celebrate with the surrounding community, but it’s more of a family-oriented tradition. If you look at the history of the tradition, it was often celebrated by families but times are changing so I’ve celebrated with friends, more distant relatives, anybody, really. Grand meals and amazing food are also a kind of foundation for the tradition.
My informant is a coworker from my job. She has the same role as me and so we spend a lot of time talking in-between customers. She immigrated to the United States from Tehran, the capital of Iran, when she was 16 years old and has a lot of family here that she enjoys continuing her traditions with. She has enjoyed telling me a lot about her culture and traditions in our time working together.
So we were just talking in-between customers when I became a little curious. I work in an area that has a large Persian population, and according to my coworker, the concentration of Persians in this area is second only to Los Angeles. So back in March about a week before Persian New Year, I noticed that a lot of her Persian clientele were coming in to buy new one-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bills. I was curious about why this was happening, and so I asked my coworker about it. After discussing the Persian New Year, we discussed other important traditions that she celebrates, such as Yaldā.
Thoughts: Similar to the traditions involved in the Persian New Year, I found it interesting that a lot of Persian traditions are derived from a completely unique religion/tradition that I had never heard of before. Yaldā night is another tradition that has its roots in Zoroastrianism. According to the sources that I read, Yaldā night was actually considered to be an unlucky day, as it was believed that this was the night that the presence of evil spirits was at its peak, which would make sense from a historical lense because evil spirits were associated with darkness and Yaldā night was the longest night of the year. To avoid the inauspiciousness of this night, families were given the recommendation to stay up all night and keep each other company. What I find most interesting is how similar the origins of Yaldā are to the origins of the western tradition of Halloween. Despite strikingly similar origin stories, these two days evolved in completely separate ways.
For an exploration into the rich culinary traditions of Yaldā, see:
“Iranian American Chef Discusses Role Of Food In Yalda Day Celebrations.(Broadcast Transcript).” Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio, Inc. (NPR), 2020.