The Longest Night
A Yalda spread. Photo from here.
A beautiful crystal bowl, filled with clear water sat in the middle of the coffee table in my parents’ living room. It was surrounded by bowls and plates of fruit, dried nuts and candy, Ajeel, pastries, seeded pomegranates, and bright red watermelon. My mother’s silver candlesticks had fresh candles in them, giving the room a poetic glow. My father’s old Hafez sat prominently on a side table, untouchable by the rest of us, waiting for him alone to announce the appropriate moment. My brother played his setar and its sweet sound warmed up the group sitting around him. It was Yalda, the longest night of the year at winter solstice. A young boy, my nephew, picked up the water bowl and started making the rounds around the room. Each person he faced made a wish, and dropped a small sign, a ring, a coin, an earring, into the bowl of shimmering clear water. Once everyone’s sign was put in the water, he returned the bowl to the table. My father picked up his Hafez, prayed, and opened a page. He would start reading the poem aloud. Everyone listened. Nobody knew whose fa’al this was…yet. After he was done, the young boy would close his eyes and reach inside the water bowl, pulling out one of the signs and hold it up. That is when we knew in response to whose wish Hafez had just spoken. Everyone exclaimed and laughed, talking about the poem. Then my father would open his Hafez book again to read another poem, and we would all listen, waiting to find out whose poem it was this time, until everyone’s was done. Yalda, the long night of memories, the night of sweet poems, the night of hope, the night of the purest Iranian celebration, is the year’s sweetest and warmest and most beautiful night for me. Happy Yalda.