Iranians are preparing to celebrate Yalda Night, an ancient cultural festival marking the arrival of winter and the longest night of the year.
People mark the festive occasion in Iran and Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and some Caucasian states like Azerbaijan and Armenia on December 21 every year.
Ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light, on Yalda Night. The word Yalda means birth in Syriac and Persians believed that it marked the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.
They would burn fires all night to ensure the defeat of evil. They also held feasts, raised charity, honored their deities and prayed to the goddess Mithra.
Today, Iranians celebrate Yalda by gathering at the home of the elders until after midnight and eating dried fruits, nuts, and winter fruits like pomegranates, which symbolizes the red color of dawn in the sky.
They also practice bibliomancy with poems of Persian poet Hafez, who is believed to have had the ability to see the future and his collection of poems have been used by Iranians as a source of mystic foresight.
Each member of the family makes a wish and opens the Hafez book of poems to a random page and reads the poem on it. Iranians believe the poem gives an interpretation of the wish and points to things that will happen in the future.
Yalda Night was officially added to Iran's List of National Treasures during a special ceremony in 2008.