As the eve of Shab-e-Yalda embraced our home, we cranked up the culture thermostat for a celebration of this ancient Persian gem, also known as Yalda Night. It marks the longest night of the year and the victory of light over darkness.
The stage was set with the boys sporting freshly groomed number 2 haircuts, and the back of Little C’s hair feeling like a “jujeh tighee” (baby bird) once again. Credit goes to our fantastic barber and friend, Zahir at Charles Cuts in Ponteland. Zahir, a wizard with the clippers, sprinkled his magic to add an extra layer of style to our Shab-e-Yalda celebration. The buzz of a good haircut, coupled with the anticipation of the night ahead, set the tone for the evening.
Antique fruit knives
Now if you’re reading my blog for the first time, you’ll know we’re usually hunting for pomegrantes, but this year we were knee-deep in them. It was just fruit knives that were in short supply, The only website I could see that had some for sale was eBay – and described them as antique! It dawned on me how different cultures could be, yet how closely connected they might have been in the past.
With £10 worth of pomegranates in tow, we headed for Honey, a confectionery in the heart of Newcastle’s West End. The shelves were lined with an array of shirini (sweet treats) that could make a sweet tooth swoon. It was a sight for sore eyes, a wonderland with every kind of treat imaginable. As we marveled at the tempting delights, the friendly store assistant, a true connoisseur of sugary pleasures, noticed Little C’s keen interest in the cashews.
With a warm smile, she affectionately called him ‘azizam’ (darling), and Little C was in his element. However, knowing his penchant for sampling everything in sight, we swiftly made our sweet selections and made a hasty exit before the entire store became his personal taste-testing playground. Because when it comes to shirini, restraint is a virtue, even for the littlest darlings.
Ancient Persia not to everyone’s taste
In the age of social media, I posted about Shab-e-Yalda on Facebook, hoping to share the beauty of this annual celebration with my British friends. However, the post didn’t garner many hits. It seems that a lot of people aren’t particularly interested in this ancient Persian tradition or don’t grasp its essence. Nevertheless, I remained undeterred, knowing that understanding and appreciation often requires a more personal touch.
Helping build bonds
Take for example my teacher friend who reached out to me on the platform recently as a new Persian girl had joined her class. She wanted to make her feel welcome but was struggling due to the language barrier. As my friend shared the challenges, I suggested she could talk to her about Shab-e-Yalda. I hoped that this would help build bonds. A connection was forged and I was absolutely elated. It was a small act, but the impact of bridging cultures in this way cannot be underestimated in our increasingly diverse world.
Back to our Shab-e-Yalda gathering as friends joined us for poetry, laughter, and fesenjan. Attempting to sit around the table proved challenging as the youngest among us wanted to play with her bowl of rice on the floor. Instead of imposing our own ways, we embraced spontaneity. We gathered on a blanket on the floor, and created a circle of connection. In that moment, we weren’t just sharing a meal; we were sharing cultural unity. It took me back to Persia where family gatherings were so grand, we had to sit on a sofreh on the floor.
Persian fortune-telling and culture
As we delved into fal, the traditional Persian fortune-telling using Hafez poetry, it became clear that Shab-e-Yalda wasn’t just a celebration. In a world divided by differences, it’s the simple acts of sharing and understanding each other that make a difference.
H was the unsung hero of the evening. Armed with his balash (cushion), and a traditional Persian lullaby, he skillfully rocked the youngest member of our gathering to sleep. The gentle swaying, accompanied by the soothing melodies of Persian music was beautiful.
So, as the candles flickered and the pomegranates glistened, I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of fulfillment. Shab-e-Yalda had not only brought warmth to our home but had ignited a connection for me, proving that we are not so different after all.