UTD students — many of them Iranian — celebrated Yalda, or the winter solstice, over break. The event was organized by the Iranian Student Community with two main aims: to share Iranian culture with all the students at UTD and to allow Iranian students to reconnect with the customs of their homeland.
Historian Sahar Nadimi, a biology senior, said one of the most important events the club hosts is Yalda. The holiday falls on Dec. 20 and indicates the beginning of winter. It is often marked by unique foods, classical Iranian music and special activities.
“People get together, they read Hafiz’s poems. Hafiz is one of the traditional poets who lived 700, 800 years ago,” she said.
A defining characteristic of Yalda is the presence of foods like pomegranate, watermelon, nuts and tea, which hold a cultural significance.
“It’s because pomegranate and watermelon are fruits of the fall and winter. At least in Iran, you don’t see much of them in the spring and summer,” Nadimi said.
At the same time, vice president Mohammed Aliakbar, a doctoral mechanical engineering student, said Yalda has a basis in folklore.
“Yalda is the longest night of the year and on that night there was an angel that was fighting with a devil all the night. After the battle, the nights get shorter and shorter, and it represents how she’s going to win over that devil,” Aliakbar said. “That is the reason for celebration.”
For Nadimi, a poetic stanza she read some years ago sums up Yalda best.
“Even though it is the longest night of the year, it is only longer by less than a minute compared to the nights before and after it,” she said. “Yalda shows that our time on earth is so short, so we have to celebrate even one more minute together.”
Although the holiday only comes once a year, the ISC has been active for five years. In that time, the officers have organized several events to spread Iranian culture. The club’s treasurer, biology sophomore Anita Yazdani said the ISC had changed gears recently by introducing events to help other students get exposure to Iranian culture, such as the movie night that took place in November.
The major focus of the organization has not changed. The ISC provides a community for Iranian students away from home. ISC president Shaida Parsaei said the core of Iranian culture is tied directly to this goal.
“Our culture is really based on getting together, having fun. That’s what I think the club is really about, you know, having those get-togethers,” she said. “A lot of (Iranian students) are here alone, not with family. That’s what our club is mainly about — to give them a second family.”
A large portion of members are students that moved to the United States specifically for college, like Yazdani’s father. In fact, the ISC celebrates Yalda in part to help those students who may be missing home and their families.
“I’ve heard stories from my dad, and he said, ‘All you have is your friends. Sometimes you miss your family so much, but all you have is your friends,’” she said. “We take away that loneliness. They will be less preoccupied with worrying about their family and they can be focusing on the things they came here to accomplish.”
The club also makes efforts to share traditional Iranian culture with students that may not know much about it.
“We try to help Iranians who were born here and are not necessarily familiar with the culture back in Iran,” Parsaei said. “We want them to experience what it’s like to go through those (special) celebrations.”
Yazdani also said the club is not exclusive to those of Iranian descent.
“We try to promote our culture to everyone,” she said. “We want other students to experience our events and our culture.”