Shab-e Yaldā, also known as “Yalda Night,“is an Iranian holiday celebrated on the night of winter solstice (the longest and darkest night of the year).
While in Istanbul for just a day before coming back to the US, I was invited to a Yalda Night party hosted by the friends and colleagues of my freshman year RA, Alex. We dressed in combinations of white, black, and red (that almost unused tube of bright red lipstick finally came in handy). At the party, everyone cheek-kissed and hugged to introduce themselves. Alex’s French roommate laughed at me for Americans’ bubbles of personal space and confusion when it comes to kissing strangers on the face. (But I thought I did a pretty good job…)
We ate delicious Persian food, along with “summer foods,” watermelon and pomegranates – a superstitious addition to the table, to protect the fruits’ consumers from disease in summer months. We danced and sang along to upbeat Iranian music (when I say sing along, I mean the Americans mouthed the words and Iranians laughed these deep belly laughs at our attempt to fit in), someone whipped out the santur (a hammered dulcimer) to play a few tunes, and Hafez’s poems were recited.
I am always conflicted when I hang out with Iranians…but not for some “I’m brainwashed by American propaganda” reason. Exactly the opposite, for a “So many people believe the crap on TV about Iran and Iranians” reason.
These people, perfect strangers, thanked me profusely for coming to their party. Maedah is perhaps one of the sweetest women I have ever met; Sima, filled with the most contagious light and happiness; Cherie, one of the best cooks. I sat talking with Maedah about how sad it is that national politics and tensions between our countries define Americans’ perceptions of average Iranians. In conversations with really bright Americans, I hear them say that Iranians hate the west and the United States – nothing could be further from the truth, Maedah said. Nicholas Kristof came to a similar conclusion on a trip to Iran; “The romantics are on our side and far outnumber the fanatics. We should bet on them, not bombs, as agents of change,” he wrote.” One of my students last semester, Eugene, visited Iran for a few days in October, and his experiences also make me wish those in the U.S. could overlook media representations of nuclear bombs and religious fanaticism. These are tired tropes that hold us back from seeing commonalities and idiosyncracies of the human experience.
Shab-e Yalda Mobarak (albeit a bit late), Happy Yalda Night.
Photo taken at Maedah’s house, with camera placed on an upturned coffee table. Dec. 21, 2014.