The Eve of the Birth of Mithra, the Sun God
While the Christians all over the world are preparing themselves for celebrating Christmas, the Iranians in Iran and outside are getting ready to celebrate one of their most ancient celebrations, yalda.
Is it a mere coincidence that these two celebration are so close to each other, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. the 25th. and yalda is celebrated on the night of Dec. the 21th. the night before the first day of winter?! Yalda and its related ceremonies which are held at the night of the first day of winter; the longest night of the year; is a very ancient tradition, and is related to Mehr Yazat. Yalda is an Aryan ceremony and the followers of Mithraism have celebrated it for thousands ofyears in Iran. Yalda is the night of Mehr or Mithra,’s birth. Yalda is also called Chelleh (Shab-e Chelleh) and as mentioned earlier is the night of birth of the unconquerable sun, or Mehr. This ceremony is as ancient as the time that people organized their lives based on seasonal changes. Light, day and sunshine were assumed to be the signs of order and ahuraic, whereas night, darkness and cold were thought as to be ahriman’s sign. Watching the changes in the length of days and nights, made the people believe that light and darkness, or day and night are in continuous battle. Light’s victory resulted in longer days whereas darkness’s victory meant longer nights. Since the first night of winter is the longest night and from that night on the days get longer and the warmth and light of the sun increases, that night was supposed to be the time for the re-birth of sun. The Aryan tribes, in India, Iran and Europe celebrated sun’s birth at the beginning of winter. To remain safe of Ahriman’s harms, people gathered on this night and made fire, and arranged a special setting on which any fresh fruit which was preserved and also all the dry fruits were put. This setting was sacred and religious. They asked sun yazat to bless them. The fruits resembled people’s hope for a fruitful spring and summer. They spent all the night together beside the fire to get rid of Ahriman’s harm. When Mithraism spread to ancient civilized world from Iran, in Rome and many European countries, the 21th. of December which is the day before the beginning day of Iranian month day or the first month of winter, was celebrated as Mithra’s birthday. But in the 4th. Century A.D., when the Roman Empire started to become Christians, they kept the birthday of Mithra as the birthday of Christ. Because of some errors in counting the leap year, the birth day of Mithra shifted to 25th. of December and was established.Until that time the birthday of Jesus Christ was celebrated in January the 6th. But the religion of most of the Romans and the people of many of the European countries was still Mithraism. But when Christianity spread, the priests, since could not stop the practice of celebrating Mithra’s birthday on December the 25th. declared this day as Jesus’s birthday which is still so. Yalda is a Soriani word meaning birth. The Roman used the word natalis for birth. The soriani Christians brought the word Yalda to Iran,which is still used.
It is not just mithra’s birth time which entered Christianity.
The whole Mithraism rituals entered the Christianity. There are so many common believes and customs (sometimes hidden from our notice!!) between different nations and religions. Let’s know those customs and talk about them, so that we may bring friendship and peace among the people of the world.
‘Shab-e Yalda’, celebrated on 21 December, has great significance in the Iranian calendar. It is the eve of the birth of Mithra, the Sun God, who symbolised light, goodness and strength on earth. Shab-e Yalda is a time of joy.Yalda is a Syriac word meaning birth. Mithra-worshippers used the term ‘yalda’ specifically with reference to the birth of Mithra. As the longest night of the year, the Eve of Yalda (Shab-e Yalda) is also a turning point, after which the days grow longer. In ancient times it symbolised the triumph of the Sun God over the powers of darkness.
The Cult of the Sun was first introduced to Iran thousands of years ago by migrant Aryans. Mithra, the Sun God remained a potent symbol of worship throughout the following centuries. Centuries later, during the Achaemenid era, Mithra became a principal deity, equal in rank to Ahura Mazda (the god of all goodness) and Anahita (goddess of water and fertility).
In Sasanian times, Zoroastrianism became Iran’s official religion, but Mithra’s importance remained undiminished. This is evident from the bas-reliefs as Naqsh-e Rustam and Tagh-e Bustan. At Naqsh-e Rustam, Anahita bestows the royal diadem upon Nasri, the Sasanian King. At the investiture of Ardeshir I, Ahura Mazda bestows this diadem to the new King. At Tagh-e Bustan too, Ahura Mazda is again conferring the royal diadem upon Ardeshir II. Mithra is always present as a witness to these ceremonies.
Over the centuries Mithraism spread to Greece and Ancient Rome via Asia Minor, gaining popularity within the ranks of the Roman army. In the 4th century AD as a result of errors made in calculating leap years and dates, the birthday of Mithra was transferred to 25 December. Until then Christ’s birthday had been celebrated on 6 January by all branches of the Christian Church. But with the cult of Mithra still popular in Roman Europe, the Christian Church adopted many of the Mithraic rituals and proclaimed 25 December as the official birthday of Christ. Today the Armenian and Eastern Orthodox Churches continue to celebrate 6 January as Christ’s birthday.
It was said that Mithra was born out of the light that came from within the Alborz mountains. Ancient Iranians would gather in caves along the mountain range throughout the night to witness this miracle together at dawn. They were known as ‘Yar-e Ghar’ (Cave Mates). In Iran today, despite of the advent of Islam and Muslim rituals, Shab-e Yalda is still celebrated widely. It is a time when friends and family gather together to eat, drink and read poetry (especially Hafiz) until well after midnight. Fruits and nuts are eaten and pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant. The red colour in these fruits symbolises the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life, invoking the splendour of Mithra.
Because Shab-e Yalda is the longest and darkest night, it has come to symbolise many things in Persian poetry; separation from a loved one, loneliness and waiting. After Shab-e Yalda a transformation takes place – the waiting is over, light shines and goodness prevails.THE jewel of the secret treasury, is still the same as once it was
The seal of Mithra, and the key, Are still what strangers can neither break or steal, the same as once they wereAsk the wandering wind Saba and thou shalt know,
Back to the dark again his pathway lies,
Every night we sing untill dawn, sing clear, and chanting:
The perfume of your black hair is an everlasting refelection of our memories to be worshiped.
There are no more people to deserve the jewels,
But the sun is still creating the treasury and troves, like it once did.
To read a report about Yalda
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To read 2nd report from Yahoo!
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* Special Thanks to my dearest friend June Soulaine who helped me correct my translation of Hafiz
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