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Yalda, all night long

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
Special table decorated for Yalda including nuts, fruits and pastries to be eaten during the night.
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NORMAN, Okla. – When in western countries winter solstice represents the shortest day of the year in some other culture such as Persian culture it means the longest night of the year.

Yalda night (Shab-e Yalda in Persian) was celebrated this year between December 21st, and 22nd.

This pre-Islamic festival celebration is the most followed event in the Persian culture after Nowruz (Persian New Year) on the first day of spring season. Millions of Iranians, Azeri, Afghans, Kurdish and Tajiks are celebrating Yalda around the world such as the Iranian diaspora in Oklahoma.

As my wife is Iranian I had the pleasure to be part of the celebration in Norman where a couple of dozen Iranians, mostly students were gathered together to enjoy the moment far from their home and family. For some, it was their first Yalda out or Iran.

“It is a way to socialize and meet new people,” said Scott, an American-Iranian working in civil engineering.

“It is kind of a new experience for me,” said Peyman Hekmatpour, a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Oklahoma (OU).

“It is hard to not be with the family for Yalda,” said Mahdi Afkhami, a Ph.D. student in architecture at OU.

As often in Persian tradition, a table was provided for Yalda including mix of nuts, pastries and fruits such as pomegranate and watermelon due to its red color symbol of glow of life.

Candles, sometimes a samovar and always a book of poetry, especially from Hafez, a famous Persian poet from the Middle Age, is added to the table to be read later in the night.

Variations of the Yalda table are numerous in function of the origins of the people and availability of the fruits and pastries available in others countries such in the USA where a large Iranian community is living.

Beside the traditional poetry lecture, people danced on Iranian music. It has to be noted that Iranian modern music is unique in the world as it can be divided into two parts.

The music made before the Iranian Revolution in 1979 from singers who are dead or still leaving in western countries.

And the new generation of musicians who were mostly born in the USA playing a music resolutely modern is second to none to the American pop music. The night alternated between melodic and energetic songs, which can be confusing for one who is not used to.

In addition to the traditional nuts and fruits, a potluck was organized with everyone bringing its own Persian dishes but not only including: ash e reshteh (noodle and bean soup), baghali polo (rice with dill and fava beans), dolma kalam (cabbage roll), Olivier salad (mash potatoes mixed mayonnaise, chicken, dills and carrots) and pizza topped with ketchup to name just a few.

“This year it is a mix of cultures,” said one of the attendee who is a longtime US resident.

Asked how they see the evolution of the relationship between Iran and the United States in 2018, all wished it will improve. But they thought that due to Trump’s policies the situation may become worst.

“Because of the actual situation my family cannot come here visiting me and I cannot go there to visit them,” Hekmatpour said.

“I don’t think it will never improve,” Scott said. “Unless there is a coup d’état in Iran to install a pro-American ruler.”

“I don’t see any reasons that they will remove the travel ban,” Afkhami thought.

But fortunately for us, the night wasn’t over, after hours of dancing the final dishes are brought out from the fridge. For this night it was a handmade Iranian style ice-cream (saffron and pistachio) and faloodeh also called “Persian noodle desert” mixed with syrup. It was a pure moment of happiness much needed after the difficult year that they have been through since Donald Trump election.

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About the Author

Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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