Yalda – The Winter Solstice

We are delighted to be able to share two articles about the festival of Yalda which is celebrated by Zoroastrians on 21st December.

The first article, by WZO committee member Fariborz Rahnamoon, gives an overview of the festival and how it is celebrated.

We thank both contributors for these articles which we hope you will find informative and useful.





Fariborz Rahnamoon

The Teachings of Zarathushtra are based on WISDOM. In the Gathas, the word WISDOM (Mazda) is mentioned 164 times, no other concept is repeated as many times. In Gatha Ha 32.1 Zarathustra says “Even Deva Worshipers can create happiness provided they use Wisdom”.  Zarathushti culture and festivals are based on Wisdom and not on superstition or fantasy. 

Ancient Zarathustis paid reverence to nature and so celebrated the important landmarks in nature as festivals. Their Calendar was a blueprint of Nature and in the Avesta, we are told of “the coming of the season at the proper time of the solar year.” (‘Haptan Yasht’ Ha-3). So also in Yasna Ha1.9, Ha 3.11, Ha 4.14 it says, “I learn about and work with the solar year, the righteous period”. This shows that the Zarathustis not only recognized the solar year they were aware of the precision with which nature works and so celebrated every significant event in nature at its proper time. They were aware of the relation between the sun and the earth thousands of years before Galileo and the western world accepted the truth.

Yalda is the celebration of the Winter Solstice the Shortest Day which is celebrated on the morning after the Winter Solstice. (First day of the month of DEY corresponding to 20/21 December). This festival was forgotten and revived in the 19th century by the Zarathustis with its Syriac name Yalda which means ‘Birth’. Before the advent of Zarathustra, it was known as ‘Zayesh E Mehr’ the Birth of Mitra, the ‘Sun God’, which was later adopted by the Romans as the birth of the ‘Son of God’, Jesus Christ. 

The winter solstice happens when the sun reaches the southernmost point as seen from the Earth, giving the northern hemisphere the longest night and shortest day. Because of the 23 degrees tilt of the earth, the Sun appears to stop at that point for two days and three nights and then start its northwards journey. From that point onwards the day grows in the northern hemisphere and so it was considered as the birth of the Sun. This phenomenon is the source of many myths in various cultures. Like the resurrection of Jesus Christ after three nights or as in the Hindu mythology, where a goddess holds the chariot of Surya (Sun) as hostage for three nights demanding that Bhrama revive her dead son and she releases Surya on the morning after the third night when her son is revived.

Today Yalda is one of the two festivals, the other being Now Rooz, that modern-day Zarathushtis celebrate at the “proper time of the solar year”, namely on the vernal equinox and the winter solstice. It is because after the invasion of Islam the Zarathushtis avoided the celebration of Yalda due to its distant relation to Mithraism, which is considered heretical by Islam. As a result, it did not become part of their calendar which was under constant change due to the imposition of the Islamic lunar calendar on the Iranians. 

Those Zarathustis that had converted to Islam by force had more freedom and did preserve their culture and did celebrate the various festivals but by introducing elements that were acceptable to the Islamic rulers. The surviving Zarathustis, when reviving the festival copied both the correct date and the non-Zoroastrian rituals from them. Those that were not happy with the Syriac name called it “Shab e Cheleh” Night of the Forties. That is the first of the forty nights before the festival of Sadeh which is on the 10th of Bahaman (30 January). It also highlights the preciseness in the calculations of all festivals.


The celebration starts at sunset of 30 of Azar and ends at sunrise of the 1st of Dey. Plenty of unseasonal fruits like watermelon grapes pomegranate etc that have been saved for the occasion with a mixed variety of nuts, usually Seven, are spread on the table for consumption. The SEVEN represents the Seven Eternal Laws (Amsha Spantas) of nature. Friends and family come together and spend the night singing dancing and storytelling. A ritual performed by the ladies on the occasion is called “Chuck O Duleh”. The women each put a personal ornament or an object into an earthen pot (Duleh)  and make a private wish.  Then with the recital of a random verse from the poems of the 14th-century poet Hafez, a young girl draws an item from the pot and the verse that was recited is supposed to be the answer to the wish made by the owner of that object (Fal-e Hafez). This continues all night. I suppose in the ancient days Zarathustis would have instead recited the Gathas of Zarathustra and discussed its application in their daily life.

Wish you all a Happy Yalda. 

Farkhondeh Yalda Khojaste Baad.