Will Howe '21
The Zoroastrian tradition is one focused on the incessant battle between good and evil, represented by light and dark. For those that don’t know, Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian monotheistic tradition whose origins are attributed to the priest Zoroaster. The religion’s “God” is Ahuramazda, a being of light that represents the good and battles Ahriman, the prince of evil. Fire and the sun are common symbols of the light in the Zoroastrian tradition. As such, many Zoroastrian rituals focus on fire (with one involving jumping over an open flame to cleanse a person’s spirit for the coming new year) and light. In winter, however, light is scarce - the nights grow longer and the black sky subsumes the sun. The winter is a time in which evil gains power, and the light struggles to fight back.
The winter solstice is the end of this gloomy period - it is the longest night of the year, but afterward the days begin to grow in length, and the light grows stronger. This day symbolizes the final defeat of dark by the light for Zoroastrians, and though it is physically dark, peoples’ spirits are illuminated by the victory of light (metaphorically, people don’t turn into glow sticks). The solstice, known as Yalda, is a Zoroastrian day of celebration - in my family we spend the occasion huddled under blankets telling stories to one another. Like Christmas, the day is one to celebrate a change in the world for the better, with Christmas celebrating Christ’s birth and the subsequent salvation of man and Yalda celebrating the defeat of darkness.
The solstice is not the only day of note in December for Zoroastrians. The priest Zoroaster died on the 26th of the month, and it is considered a day of mourning and study for those who follow Zoroastrianism. While it is not quite as popular with Iranian-Americans, it is nonetheless an important piece of Zoroastrian culture in the holiday season
I celebrate both Christmas and Yalda each year. While it may seem incongruous to follow two religions at the same time, the difference for me and for many other contemporary Zoroastrians is that Zoroastrianism is becoming progressively more cultural than theological. While Zoroastrians initially firmly believed in the existence of Ahuramazda, those beliefs have softened over time and more import has been placed on the rituals of the faith. This trend is especially evident in the expandingly atheist United States amongst Iranian-Americans.
Zoroastrianism is unique amongst ancient religions in that it is monotheistic, and thus more compatible with religions like Christianity and Islam in our modern day. The belief in doing good and conquering the evil within oneself starkly resembles Christian values - the two religions synergize wonderfully, especially during the holiday season. The holidays are a time for people to come together, and what better way to do that than observe two cultures at once.
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