Iranians in the UK are coming together on 21 December 2023 to commemorate the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, with the traditional celebration “Shab-e Yalda”.

Yalda originates from Zoroastrianism and translates to “birth.” This ancient tradition dates back more than 7000 years but it is still widely celebrated across the world! Despite celebrating the longest night, Yalda Night is a celebration of the birth of the sun – and the light triumphing over evil and good.

Unlike the UK, where the year is divided into twelve months, Iran divides the year into seasons, with each season having a name that translates to “forty days”.

Despite Iran being the main country to serve this celebration, other countries such as Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey are also familiar with this festivity.

Ceremonies and rituals allow people to come together for a moment of appreciation, despite the current conflicts that occur in the world.

What specific traditions do they follow for this celebration?

The colour red is a dominant colour in the evening as red is often associated with warmth, life, the triumph of light over darkness, and good fortune and happiness.

  • Most of the visitors wear red.
  • They eat foods such as pomegranates and watermelon.
  • “Havij Polo” is a dish typically served with chicken and saffron (saffron being red).
  • “Nardoon” is a pomegranate stew that is also served with “Anar Polo” a pomegranate rice.
  • Iranian Trail Mix – Ajil – is a common snack to eat during the night.
  • Beetroots and persimmons are other common foods eaten during the evening.
  • Staying up past midnight.
  • Reading ancient poems out loud.
  • Dancing.

**If you are interested in how to cook these meals, the recipes and instructions are included above.

One fruit – such as the pomegranate – can have heavy meaning. Pomegranates have been mentioned in the Bible and the Quran. The fruit has symbolic importance as it represents purity and righteousness.

Despite the conflict in Iran that took place this year surrounding the protests for Mahsa Amini, many Iranians are driven to appreciate those around them by coming together for this celebration – especially to give them good fortune for the future.

Aydin Malek, 19, was born in the UK, however, his family is from Iran. Aydin has visited Iran on multiple occasions but he still ensures that he maintains his family’s traditions despite living away from Iran.

“My Nan loves peeling the pomegranates and putting the grains into a bowl, and i just DEVOUR them”

-aydin malek

Despite Yalda night being a universal celebration, every family have their specific and different ways of celebrating.

Audio: Interview with Aydin Malek, speaking about his experience on Yalda Night

As the generations pass, Yalda is celebrated a little differently. Leyla Shamlo has been celebrating ever since she was a little girl in Iran. Her experience is a little bit different to Aydin’s. 

“Normally the eldest family MEMBER set the table and read the poetry.”

-Leyla Shamlo

Audio: Interview with Aydin Malek, explaining what she did for Yalda in Iran