Yalda is a winter solstice festival celebrated in Iran and by Persians around the world. It begins at sunset on the last day of fall and ends at dawn on the first day of winter. It recognizes the longest night of the year and the upcoming increasing sunlight for crops to grow.

The word “Yalda” means rebirth, and remembers the rebirth of the sun and the victory of light over darkness. The celebration is dedicated to Mithra, the ancient Iranian goddess of light.

Families celebrate Yalda by gathering on this longest night of the year (Shab-e-Yalda) in the homes of older family members, eating special foods, drinking tea, and telling stories. Fruits – both fresh and dried – and nuts are very common. Pomegranates are supposed to symbolize the glow of new life with their bright red seeds, and watermelons symbolize the sun with their round shape. Red is the color of the night, thought to symbolize dawn and new life.

Families often dance and gather around a fire. They often read poetry, especially from the famous Iranian poet Hafez and his book of poems called Divan.