Recently, UNESCO put Yalda Night on its Cultural Heritage List as a shared culture of Afghanistan and Iran. In recognition, the Massoud Foundation hosted an event on Thursday 22 December 2022, to celebrate Shab-e Yalda (Yalda) with our community, stakeholders and the wider Australian community.
The event was a wonderful occasion to celebrate the past year, congratulate each other on our triumphs and wish prosperity for the year ahead.
What is Shab-e Yalda
Shabe Yalda – or Yalda Night – is an ancient Persian occasion. Yalda Night is the last night of the Autumn season, leading to the Winter season. This is the longest night of the year, after which the days will start to become longer than nights. It is also called Shabe Chila.
The word comes from Syriac or Suryani language meaning birth, or rebirth of nature. Yalda Night is not only celebrated in the Persianate world – Kurds, Persian of Iran, and Afghanistan. This tradition also extends to Central Asia, Caucasus and the Kurds of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and beyond.
Thus, the celebration of this cultural event is at once a celebration of nature and its concomitant symbols such as light and rebirth. It is also a celebration of the interconnectedness of vast cultures and civilisations of the globe.
During Yalda, families gather at the houses of elders and sit around a table, usually covered with a blanket and either hot water or charcoal (Sandalee) placed underneath. The table is adorned with a series of symbolic objects and foods including:
A lamp or candle to symbolise the light
Water to represent cleanliness, and;
Red fruits such as anor (pomegranates), tarbooz (watermelon), beetroots, jujube and angoor (grapes) to symbolise warmth and vitality
Family members sit around the table and take advantage of the longest night of the year by reciting poetry, exchanging stories and playing games and music.
“Yalda is a symbol of light, rebirth and the warmth of life. It is a celebration of the interconnectedness of vast cultures and the civilisation of the globe.”
On Thursday 22 December, the Massoud Foundation hosted its first Yalda event. It was extremely successful with over 250 attendees, exceeding our 200 anticipated register. Many participants and Massoud Foundation volunteers attended the event in their traditional clothing to get in the Yalda spirit and beautifully represent the rich culture of Afghanistan.
We had our own Yalda display in the Granville Centre, to mark the special occasion. The front stage was adorned with Yalda Table, and a variety of dried fruits spread across Persian rugs.
Our evening began with welcome remarks by Bilal Waheed, the Executive Director of Massoud Foundation Australia, followed by Mr. Laurie Ferguson, a former member of Parliament for Ried, and our special guest speaker, Mr. Salam Sangi. Mr. Sangi is a renowned Afghan actor and Farsi poem reciter. In the Occident, he is most well known for his Hollywood role in Charlie Wilson’s War, working alongside Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Emily Blunt.
Mr. Sangi recited original Farsi poetry, highlighting the significance of Yalda night and spending the night with loved ones. His poetry encouraged us to reflect on the rich Afghan culture and appreciate its deep-rooted traditions.
“Yalda is a night to celebrate with loved ones and enjoy the art of story-telling.”
Following the poetry and night stories, members of our organisation played the tabla (drums), and gave an exceptional percussion performance.
The night ended with an authentic and delicious traditional Afghan banquet followed by dessert.
It was our honour to host the Yalda event for our community and raise awareness of our rich and diverse culture. A special thanks to Mr. Salam Sangi for traveling all the way from Melbourne to celebrate Yalda Night with us. It is always a privilege to meet and speak to an Afghan icon.
The Massoud Foundation also extends our gratitude to our volunteers for their tireless efforts who made this event joyful and successful.
Until the next Yalda, we wish you all a bright year ahead!