Celebrating Yalda Night

An Iranian feast.| Photo by Ali Moradi.

An Iranian feast.| Photo by Ali Moradi.

Every year, Iranians and Central Asians living all over the world celebrate Yalda Night, an ancient tradition marking the passing of the longest night of the year. This holiday originated when most people in Iran were practicing Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion that existed centuries before Islam.

On Dec. 21 in Port Moody, the Tri-City Cultural Iranian Societies is hosting their annual Winter Solstice! Yalda Night, an evening of Iranian and Azerbaijani culture with family and friends. The evening features traditional Iranian music from Vashaan Music Group and some new additions this year: live dance performances from Chichaklar Dance Group as well as comedy shows, an art show and cultural exhibits.

Volunteers from three distinct Iranian cultures and societies are involved in organizing Yalda Night. The additions this year reflect how the Iranian community has established itself in the Lower Mainland throughout the years and strengthened its presence.

“In Iranian culture, we go by the earth and the sun. We celebrate the equinoxes, and Yalda is the celebration of the winter solstice.” says Masoud Esmailzadeh, 59, president of the Hafez Literature Club in Port Moody and one of the event organizers.

“It’s a two thousand-year-old celebration about families being together and having a party. Yalda Night has been hosted for six years in the Tri-Cities,” adds Morteza Moshtaghi, 55, president of the Iranian Art and Literature Society and another one of the organizers.

Centuries-old traditions

During Yalda Night, extended families gather together at the house of the oldest member of the family to party and talk the long night. All night people read poetry, play games, tell stories and eat lots of watermelon and summer fruits.

Hamin Honari, 30, a percussionist in the Vashaan Music Group that will perform at Port Moody’s Yalda Night, remarks that the special foods found during Yalda Night are the ones customarily eaten in Iranian regions.

“Persimmons and pomegranates are big there at this time of year. We eat fruits that are in season, especially fruits that grew during the summer. Compared to 20 years ago, it’s easier to find pomegranates and persimmons in stores in the Lower Mainland. Watermelon is very important during this day; people eat lots of it all night.”

Summer fruits are preferable for the playful superstition that eating summer fruits will prevent a person from falling ill during the cold season.

Differences between Yalda Night in Iran and in the Lower Mainland

Dancers from Chichaklar Dance Group, who will be performing at Yalda Night.| Photo by Chichaklar Dance Group

Dancers from Chichaklar Dance Group, who will be performing at Yalda Night.| Photo by Chichaklar Dance Group

In some ways, celebrating Yalda Night in the Lower Mainland is more open than in Iran. “Here there are more opportunities to celebrate with families that are not your own,” comments Esmailzadeh.

Honari notes a musical difference. “In general, we can hear a different variety of music than you can back home. It sounds more open and free to play. For instance, women can’t sing alone on stage in Iran; there, they need to be accompanied by a male singer. Here in our traditional music they can.”

In addition to being a cultural immersion in Iranian celebrations, 2014 Winter Solstice! Yalda Night is the result of volunteers’ loving labour. Since its inception in Port Moody six years ago it continues to share this Central Asian holiday in the area.


Winter Solstice! Yalda Night
Dec. 21
Port Moody