Yalda, Christmas, Iranians, and Mithraism

December 21, 2011

The Yalda Night (Shab-e Yalda), also known as the Chelleh Night (Shab-e Chelleh) or Zayeshmehr, has been one of the most important celebrations in Persia since at least 5,000 years ago. Yalda Night is an Aryan celebration, and followers of Mithraism have held its traditions since the ancient time in Persia. Yalda Night is the Persian Winter Solstice Celebration. Yalda is celebrated on the Northern Hemisphere’s longest night of the year, that is, on the eve of the Winter Solstice. Yalda means “Birth”, and is a “Birthday Celebration”. It’s birthday of Mithra or Mehr, the ancient Persian god of light, wisdom, and sun. As we said before, The two Persian religions, Mithraism and Zoroastrianism are among the oldest religion in the world. Zoroastrianism is the first monolithic religion in the world. Mithraism and Zoroastrianism both influenced a lot of following religions -including Christianity. Many ancient religious traditions in Persia are global traditions now . When Romans accepted Christianity, about 300 years after birth of Jesus Christ, churches determined Mithra or Mehr (sun) Birth Celebration as birthday of Jesus Christ, since the exact date of his birth was unclear. When Mithraism was transferred from ancient Persia to other parts of the world, many Europeans celebrated December 21 as Jesus Christ Birthday, but from 4th Century onward due to some mistakes in calculation, Christmas day was determined December 25. In fact, Christmas night was Yalda night. Some ask sarcastically: “Is everything Persian?” Will Durant, in “The Story of Civilizaiton” (volume 1) writes: “Where did civilization begin? Where is Cradle of Civilization ? It’s unanswerable. But the arid regions of central Asia [Persia] were once moist and temperate, nourished with great lakes and abundant streams. The recession of the last ice wave slowly dried up this area, until the rainfall was insufficient to support all cities. In the ancient Persia, at Susa [and also at Jiroft (Kerman), and at Marlik (Gilan), and other regions], in remains of a culture which belongs to 9000 BC to 4000 BC, we find the cultivation of wheat, barley and millet, the use of copper, the domestication of animals, and the ornamentation of pottery in styles so conventionalized as to suggest an artistic background and tradition of many centuries. Our story begins with the Orient, not merely because Asia was the scene of the oldest civilizations known to us, but because those civilizations formed the background and basis of that Greek and Roman culture. Our science, our literature, our philosophy and our religion, go back to the Orient [mainly Persia]


There are many similarities between the Mithraic and Christian traditions. Some experts say: “Mithra’s date of birth, became that of Christianity. Sunday (day of the sun), holiday of the Mithraists, became the holiday of the Christians. The Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Satan, Heaven, Hell, Limbo, Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and many other things like holy bread, holy water, the candles used for Christmas, etc are remaining of Mithraism and Zoroastrianism”. Even the first Greek historians, like Xenophon in 2500 years ago, have written about this fact that Mithra is an Iranian god, but some stupid scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries, who were the puppet of the politicians tried to change the history. The exact date of Jesus birth is unclear. Some say: “If the accounts in the Bible are correct, the time of Jesus birth would have been closer to mid-summer, for this is when shepherds would have been ‘tending their flocks in the field’ and the new lambs were born”. But there is not doubt that Mithraism was the major religion in the Roman Empire before Christianity, and choosing 25th December as Christ’s birthday was because of Yalda and Mirthra’s birthday. But some scholars that were politicians’ puppets tried to say that Mithraism is a Roman cult, not a Persian cult. In the ancient Persian literature you can find many things and many references to the Mithra and Mirthaism (“Kishe Mehr”). The ancient Persian myths is full of stories about Mithra or Mehr. There are also many old Persian texts, known as Pahlavi texts, that belong to 3000 to 4000 years ago and talk about Mithra. Iranians also have a holy book named “Avesta” that belongs to 4000 years ago. In the Avesta, the sacred Zoroastrian writings of the ancient Persians, Mithra appears as the chief Yazata, or good spirit, and ruler of the world. In Zoroastrianism, together with Rashnu ‘Justice’ and Sraosha (Soroush) “Obedience”, Mithra is one of the three judges at the Chinvat bridge, the “bridge of separation” that all souls must cross. In the Zoroastrian calendar, the 16th day of the month and the 7th month of the year are dedicated to, and under the protection of Mithra or Mehr. Some believe the Greeks of Asia Minor accepted Mithraism in the Persian Empire in 7th to 4th century BC, and helped to spread the cult (, and also changed parts of it). Others believe that Mithraism was brought to Rome in 1st century BC.


After Islam, Yalda like other Zoroastrian festivals was attacked by the Arabs. But Yalda was important for the Persians and they kept it safe under any condition. In the ancient Persia and its religions, Zoroastrianism and Mithraism, the winter solstice was an auspicious day, and included customs intended to protect people from misfortune. The people had (and still have) small parties and gatherings and eat the last remaining fresh fruits from summer, like watermelon and pomegranate. They also eat Ajil (nuts and dried fruit). Iranians used nuts and dried fruits a lot. Ajil , watermelon, and pomegranate are symbol of Yalda. Watermelon especially kept from summer for this ceremony. Yalda has its own Sofreh. Sofreh that means ‘spread’, is a cloth (table linen) spread on the carpet, on the table, or on the Korsi, on which food is served. In the Persian religious traditions, Sofreh had a special meaning, too. When Iranians, specially women, wanted to have a religious ceremony, or wanted to ask God or holy spirits to do something for them, they had Sofreh. In fact, Sofreh Haftseen (Nowruz), Sofreh Yalda, Sofreh Nazr, Sofreh Bibi or Pari [fairy], etc are part of this ancient Persian tradition. Sofreh Yalda, like Sofreh Haftseen, has its own items including Ajil, watermelon, pomegranate, sweets, candle, dried and fresh fruits. In the old times, Sofreh Yalda was placed on the Korsi. The Korsi is a traditional piece of furniture similar to a very short table, covered by a thick blanket. In fact, Korsi is the old Persian table since the ancient time. People sit around the Korsi and put their legs under the blanket. Inside the Korsi, heat is generated by means of coal or heaters. Of course, now only in some rural areas you can find the Korsi. Prior to Thomas Edison’s invention, decorating and lighting the house and yard with candles was also part of the tradition, but few have continued this tradition. In ancient Yalda, fires and candles were burnt all night to ensure the defeat of the forces of Ahriman. There were prayers to God to ensure the total victory of the sun that was essential for the protection of winter crops. They thought the sun is reborn after Yalda. It was also believed that God would grant people’s wishes in that day. Another faded tradition is giving the present of dried fruits and nuts to family and friends in small parchments tied with ribbon. New traditions include on-line sharing of pictures from Yalda gatherings, wishing each other a happy Yalda in phone calls or SMS or on social networks. In Yalda night, many Iranians spend the longest night of the year with family members and friends.


Christmas is like Yalda, because its root is Yalda and Mithraism. The lack of good written sources on Mithraism is largely due to this fact that Mithraism is a very old religion. It belongs to the pre-Zoroastrian era, in 5000 to 10,000 years ago. Some say: ‘the Zoroastrian clergy preferred to mix Mithraism with Zoroastrianism, and tried to destroy Mithraic sources as much as possible’. Some experts say: “The founder of modern Mithraic studies, Franz Cumont, talked nonsense a lot. But even for Cumont, Mithraism in the West was Romanized Mazdaism, that still means its core is a Persian religion (Mazdaism is a Persian religion). The old Persian texts, notably the Bundahin, which carry the Zoroastrian cosmological accounts are several centuries later than the Roman-era artifacts”. According to the Persian myths, Mithra was born of Anahita, an immaculate virgin mother. You still can find many Anahita temples and other Mithraic temples in the central Iran (Fars, Yazd, etc), the southern Iran (Kuzestan), the western Iran (Kurdistan), and the eastern Iran (Sistan, Harat, etc). The Greeks and the Romans viewed Persia as a land of wisdom and civilization. The today’s bullshits should not deceive you.Xenophon, a contemporary of Socrates, was a Greek historian. He is known for his writings on the history of his own times, the 4th century BC, specially for descriptions of life in ancient Greece and the Persia Empire. Herodotus is also a Greek historian in the 5th century BC, who wrote about Persians and the Persian Empire a lot. Herodotus was enemy of Iranians, and Xenophon was not a friend, but both admired Persians a lot. Xenophon had a special book about Cyrus the Great, “Cyropaedia “, and a famous book, “Anabasis”, about his trip to Persia. Herodotus and others told some big lie about Persians, but it had psychological reasons. Some wise Greeks say: “Greeks saw much to admire in Persian culture. The Greek attitude toward the Persians was probably a complex mixture of fascination, envy, and contempt. Telling lie about the Persians, that were a super power at that time, served to bolster Greek self-esteem and self-righteousness in the aftermath of the Persian invasion” Unfortunately, this “complex mixture of fascination, envy, and contempt” still continue in somewhere (not in Greece). I hope they can get rid of this sort of evil emotions or can control the animal instincts. We should live in today, as a modern and civilized human. We should not distort the facts or the history, because of a “mixture of fascination, envy, and contempt”.


The ancient Persians had many festivals and tried to be happy as much as possible, even in the winters. Chelleh Night is 40 days after winter. Persians had two special festival periods in the winter that are called Chelleh Bozorg (great Chelleh) and Chelleh Kuchik (small Chelleh). The great Chelleh begins on the first day of winter and lasts forty day. The small Chelleh begins on a day after the great Chelleh and lasts twenty days (20 days + 20 nights = 40). These two Chelleh are associated with special festivities and customs throughout Persia. The first night of the great Chelleh is Chelleh night or Yalda night. The ancient Persians and the Zoroastrian thought that “being sad, depressed, or disappointed” is an evil thing. They tried to be happy as much as possible, and that’s why they had many festivals (more than 30 festivals) in each year. In the ancient Persian Calendar, each day and each month had a name. The day on which the day-name and month-name dedications intersect was dedicated to the divinity of that day/ month, and was celebrated with a Jashn (ceremony/ feast) in honor of that divinity. Unfortunately, after the Arab invasion, the stupid Arabs forbade being happy and the joyful festivals. For more than 200 years they tried to destroy all Persian traditions. Of course, they could not succeed and many Persian traditions survived, but many things changed. Unfortunately, some think Europe always was modern like today, and Persia always was like today. But you can easily read the history and find the truth. Europe is modern now, but not in the past, and Persia is one of the main “Cradles of Civilization”, along with India and China. The Mullahs are Arab or pro-Arab bastards (not wise and respectful Arabs) who hate Iran’s history and Iran’s traditions. Who can deny this? It’s so obvious that your today’s conditions can not show your past and your history. Yes, just today is important. But why some stupid bastards try to change the history? why they tell big lies? When some bastards talk nonsense about the past, it’s an attack on the truth, and those who care about the truth should defend it. It’s not a nationalist thing, it’s just defending the truth. Those who tell lie about the past, tell lie about today as well. We all can see those who tell lie about the Persian history, tell blatant lie about today’s Iran and Iranians and many other things, too. Maybe, they still suffer from a “mixture of envy and contempt”. They should go to a mental hospital and cure themselves. It’s necessary for having a better life and a better world.