shab-e yalda

December 24, 2019

 

as i type this, the unmistakable aroma of fesenjoon, tachin, and chicken koobideh rise from the kitchen. the sofreh (altar) is adorned with pomegranates, persimmon, watermelon, dried fruits & nuts, candles, and the sacred books of hafiz.

 

tonight we will dance with the night; drinking tea and wine, reading poetry and telling stories, until we welcome the winter dawn. we will eat watermelon in gratitude to the autumn harvest and the summer to come. we will remember and celebrate our ancestors, who have carried the tradition of yalda forward for thousands of years, through even darker times than ours.

 

often, when i speak of my cultural traditions, i am met with, "i wish i had some tradition like that" or "you're so lucky". But trust, no part of my story includes luck. no part of my story is easy. it is an unimaginable miracle that i am here to carry these stories. these stories, never written, whispered and remembered through war, revolution, sickness, diaspora.

 

two months before my mother passed away, while at an appointment with her oncologist, we were told based on her bloodwork and vitals that she would most likely only live a few more days.

 

but as we left the doctors office, my mothers energy was as bright as fire, not that of a person who would pass away in just a few days. that night, while drinking tea, something extraordinary happened. it was as if the texts of my mothers soul and the soul of all my grandmothers before her, poured out.

 

all afternoon and night she spoke, trance like, every story she held. she recited poetry and rhyme. she spoke the hardest and painful stories she had locked away. she recited hundreds of recipes from all the regions of iran. her storytelling rang until dawn.

 

tonight as i watch my daughter powder saffron with my mother's mortar and pestle, or joyfully dancing to parvin, i see something ancient in her. something i remember, but can't quite explain. something so beautiful and dear that my heart hurts with aliveness. something that feels like hope, but the hope carried by all those who stood before me, who survived long enough for me to enjoy this night.

 

شب یلدا 
shab-e yalda
happy winter solstice!

 

a poem for you, dear loves of my life,

 

Saints Bowing in the Mountains
by Hafiz

 

Do you know how beautiful you are? 

 

I think not, my dear. 
For as you talk of God,
I see great parades with wildly colorful bands 
Streaming from your mind and heart, 
Carrying wonderful and secret messages 
To every corner of this world.

 

I see saints bowing in the mountains 
Hundreds of miles away 
To the wonder of sounds 
That break into light 
From your most common words.

 

Speak to me of your mother, 
Your cousins and your friends. 
Tell me of squirrels and birds you know. 
Awaken your legion of nightingales - 
Let them soar wild and free in the sky

 

And begin to sing to God. 
Let's all begin to sing to God!

 

Do you know how beautiful you are?

 

I think not, my dear, Yet Hafiz
Could set you upon a stage 
And worship you forever!

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