‘Shab-e Yalda’ (Shab-e Chelleh), its philosophy, history
And the relation of the 4000 years old ceremonies of the longest night of the year with Christmas
Easternologists and historians unanimously agree that since the past 4000 years on Shab-e Yalda – the last day of autumn and Azar – which is the longest and darkest night of the year, Iranians have got together and stayed awake until dawn and kept themselves busy in order to evade the depression due to absence of the sun, darkness and also the cold, and as it dawns they go to sleep (after making sure that the sun has returned after a dark and long night, which is also called the birth of the sun) and rest for a while.
Previously, Iranians (people of the whole of Iran) had named this day “Shab-e Yalda” (1st of Dey), ‘Khor’ Day and also ‘Deygan’, and on that day everybody would take rest and it was a public holiday. On that day, the main reason that they did not work was because they did not wish to, by any chance, do any wrong; in Mithraism any wrong deed, even small, on the day of the birth of the sun, was considered a big sin.
Hermann Hirt, the famous German linguist, who has written the comparative grammar of Aryan languages, of which Persian is one, has commented that ‘Dey’ means day and the reason this month was given the name of ‘Dey’ was because the first day of this month is the birthday of the sun. It is worth noting that English is a grammatical language (the family of German languages) and from a larger family of Aryan languages. Hermann Hirt is born on the eve of Deygan and is proud of his birthday which coincides with the birth of the sun.
Ferdowsi refers to his sources and connects Yalda and Khor Day to King Hushang Pishdadi, king of Iran (the dynasty of kings that rose from Sistan) and has versed poems as follows:
We are proud of our faith
There is no faith in the world better than the faith of Hushang
It is all about justice and worship of Mehr
And about the secrets of the universe.
The customs regarding ‘Shab-e Yalda’ have not changed in the course of time. Whatever fruit is left in the storage, together with dried fruit and snacks are eaten. All members of the family gather in the house and sit around the fire till dawn brings the tidings of the breaking of darkness and the coming of light and warmth (in ancient Iran this is the month that the sun, without which there will be no life, is alive and not gone) because in their beliefs on that night darkness is at its peak.
In ancient Iran Khor Day (Deygan) = 1st Dey, was also the day of equality between human beings. On this day everyone, including the king, would dress in ordinary clothes, to look alike, and no one had the right to give order to others. All the work was done voluntarily and not by orders. On this day war and bloodshed, even killing animals or birds was prohibited. This fact was known by the enemies of Iran and respected in the front lines, and war would cease temporarily. Many times it was noticed that this temporary ceasing of war would end up in peace.
The word ‘yalda’ was used from the Sassanian period, when there was inclination to use Seryani script (written from right to left). Yalda comes from the word ‘milad’, meaning birth, which has come from the Semitic language into Persian. It is to be noted that in many places in Iran especially in the south and southwest, for naming the longest night of the year instead of the word yalda ‘Shab-e Chelleh’ is used (40 days until the Sadeh celebration).
‘Shab-e Yalda (Shab-e Chelleh) traveled to the Roman territory from Iran and was called Saturn feast. This feast was celebrated even after the Romans became Christian, and in the first century after freedom of following the Christian religion was given, the then head of the Roman church appointed 25 December as the birth of Christ (Christmas), which is only 4 days, and on leap years 3 days, away from Shab-e Yalda (Chelleh), which falls on 21 December, and the meaning of these two days is the same. From then onwards, these two birthdays have been celebrated almost together. Decorating the pine tree or cypress on Christmas has also been adapted from Iran, because Iranians believe in the two ever green trees, especially cypress as the symbol of resistance against the dark and cold and would stand before the cypress on Khor Day and would make a vow that by the next year they would plant another cypress.