a different side of Israel

Tag: Holidays

Yalda Night

December 21 is known as Yalda Night for Iran, the longest night of the Iranian solar year. Yalda Night is a night with very special ceremonies. Families gather together on Yalda Night with elders until well after midnight. During Yalda Night dried fruits and winter fruits such as watermelon and pomegranate is feasted on to symbolize the sky’s red color. Iranians recite their favorite poems by Hafez, a highly respected Iranian poet.

The Night Of Yalda literally means The Night Of Birth. This gives Iranians a good time to spend with friends, family, and other loved ones. Yalda is deeply rooted in Iranian history and is known to demonstrate the eagerness of Iran’s strong family ties. The tradition of Yalda Night dates back to ancient Persia thousands of years ago and is still celebrated. Yalda is primarily celebrated in the Northern hemisphere of the country on the eve of the Winter Solstice. Depending on the calendar year, Yalda Night can either be celebrated on Decement 20th or 21st every year. In 2008, Yalda Night was added to Iran’s List Of National Treasures.

According to the Iranian mythology, Yalda night is the bringing of light and triump over darkness for the days to come. This celebration takes place on the darkest and longest night each year. Yalda Night’s traditions are intended to help protect people from any misfortune in the coming year. Iranian television and radio will offer special programming for Yalda Night.

Many Iranians will be seen in mahali, the traditional clothing. Food is placed on the Korsi, a traditional table used for Yalda, so friends and family can eat. Although this is a highly celebrated tradition, some families will choose to simply make phone calls to their friends and family instead of getting together. As a parting gift, many families offer bags of dried fruits to family and friends.



In Israel the end of Passover is marked with a celebration called Mimouna, which is a custom brought to this country by the Jews of Morocco.

In Morocco, Mimouna was celebrated with some beautiful and unique customs.

Immediately following afternoon prayers, or mincha, Jews would go out to the orchards to view the blooming fruit trees, a symbol of spring and renewal, and recite the blessing of the trees.

In the evening, they would bring Passover delicacies to their Muslim neighbours, who would in turn present the Jews with a gift basket of yeast and leavened foods, or chametz, to mark the end of the holiday. Many people point to this as evidence of the good relations enjoyed by Jews and Muslims in Morocco.

One of the items in the gift basket presented by the Muslim neighbours was yeast, which the Jews used that evening to prepare the dough for a leavened delicacy called mufleta – crepes covered with melted butter and honey (as seen in the photo). The kneading of the dough was a ceremony in itself, with the men singing accompanying hymns and then presenting their wives with coins to be placed in the dough for luck and prosperity in the coming year.

In the mixed Arab-Jewish towns of Israel Mimouna is sometimes celebrated in the traditional way, with exchanges of food between Muslims and Jews. But mostly it has become a Jewish-only celebration with massive amounts of food, dancing to traditional North African music and much rejoicing at the beginning of spring and the season of renewal. Interestingly, Mimouna has been adopted by all the Jews of Israel – not just those of North African descent – as an occasion to celebrate.

Katsav celebrates Mimouna
President Moshe Katsav celebrates Mimouna in the town of Netivot. credit: Alberto Dankenberg/Haaretz

For more about how Mimouna was celebrated yesterday in Israel, see this article in Haaretz newspaper.

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