Shab-e Yalda, the Persian winter solstice celebration, is a time for family get-togethers. But how can you celebrate when your in-laws are 4,000 miles away?
It’s a bittersweet reality, but I have learned over the years that I can be close to my in-laws even when we live thousands of miles apart. We don’t even speak the same language, but we’re always there for each other.
It’s partly down to advances in video chat technology (and hand gestures) that has enabled this. It meant that my in-laws were present moments after little C’s birth, were there when he smiled for the first time and when he ate his first spoonful of baby rice. I’m sure that when they saw C via the iPad they would have rather kissed and hugged him, but it was still an improvement on the expense of phone cards in years gone by.
The distance at special celebratory times of the year such as Shab-e Yalda (Yalda or Birth Night) does feel that little bit further, so we make an extra special effort to be there for each other (despite the three-hour time difference) with the help of software applications such as Skype.
Shab-e Yalda is the longest and darkest night of the year and marks the last evening of autumn (Azar) and the start of winter (Dey). Families share fresh and dried fruit, seeds, dates, mixed nuts and sweet treats and wash it all down with tea. Watermelon and pomegranates are among the most popular fruits served on Yalda Night.
It is believed that eating watermelon before the onset of winter can protect you from catching a cold. Let’s hope so! Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit bowl, are a reminder of the cycle of life – the rebirth and revival of generations. The dark red outer layer symbolises birth and the ruby-red seeds represent the glow of life.
Everything is arranged on a traditional tablecloth (sofreh) and following a hot dinner, families and friends recite the poetry of Hafez, narrate stories or just chat until around midnight. As the 13th Century Iranian poet Sa’di wrote in his book, Boustan: “The true morning will not come until Yalda Night is gone.”
Preparations were in full swing yesterday in both households as we all got ready for a great Shab-e Yalda. I had ended up on a bit of a trek across town for ruby-red pomegranates, while my in-laws had difficulty in tracking down a good-sized watermelon. Eventually we all got what we needed and headed home.
We celebrated across the miles via video link and sent text messages to extended family to congratulate them saying ‘Shab-e Yalda Mobarak’. (Best wishes on Yalda Night). It was great as the whole family got to enjoy the warmth of each other’s company and chat all night long. They also got to see C eating his first piece of watermelon! And as you can see, this is why long distance video chat really matters.
If you want to see more of how we celebrate traditions across the miles, click here.