The Persian Student Society (PSS), a growing social and cultural student organization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, held Yalda Night — or Shabe Yalda — last Friday night in Memorial Union’s Tripp Hall to celebrate the winter solstice.
The festival officially takes place on Dec. 21. However, this collides with final exams for students, so PSS celebrated the community-wide event early, according to Nedda Besharat, a UW-Madison sophomore and student member on the Cultural Committee board.
The celebration featured various food and beverage options for everyone to enjoy with their friends, peers and loved ones.
PSS represents the Persian community on UW-Madison’s campus, ranging from undergraduate and graduate students to faculty members. In the 2022 spring semester, PSS was rebuilt by the society’s current executive board members, including the society’s president, UW-Madison sophomore Adrian Cyrus.
According to Besharat, PSS has continued to gain campus recognition since reestablishing.
Some dishes unique to this celebration include plates of watermelon and pomegranate, symbolizing life, prosperity and protection from illness. Both fruits were placed on the Hafiz table, a display of traditional objects and decorations. Additionally, the table included nuts, candles and small scripts of writing in a silver bowl to appreciate the meaningful night.
Another Yalda Night tradition revolves around poetry. Dr. Farid Masrour, a UW-Madison professor in the Department of Philosophy, and Ali Mansouri, a member of the PSS Cultural Committee, were both featured readers of the night. They shared poetry and other written pieces featuring topics of growth, overcoming tough barriers in life and finding hope in oneself. Their performances, predominantly spoken in Farsi, were inspired by Iranian culture and literature.
PSS also hosted well-known Washington, D.C. area poet Marjan Naderi. As an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, Naderi was invited to perform some of her pieces in poetry slam style. She has been awarded for her work over the course of her career — being a seven-time Poetry Grand Slam Champion, winning the International Poetry Slam Champion title and being featured by The Washington Post, NBC News, NPR and Nike.
While most of her work is inspired by growing up as an Afghan-American girl alongside her mother and father’s influential impact on her life, Naderi chose to share some of her more spirited pieces for the Yalda Night celebration. One of the pieces she performed, titled “Khimrayyat,” was inspired by her experience of being around people drinking alcohol and observing their humorous and enjoyable behavior, she said.
This piece was the first comedic poem Naderi ever wrote. She expressed how “their reckless joy connects with the love and pleasure for the celebration of Yalda.” She added that “the winter solstice is typically when alcohol is fermented to drink'' and relates this to “the aspect of staying up all night during Yalda.”
Through her friendliness and encouragement for the audience to engage in her slam poetry session, Naderi’s performance was enjoyable to all.
“Marjan’s performance brought tears to my eyes,” Besharat said. “You could not only see, but you could feel her words as she put all her emotion into them. I was in awe the entire time and enjoyed Marjan’s passion.”
PSS organizes many social events, workshops and campus rallies, including the Campus Rally for Iran on Nov. 30.
These events aim to offer a welcoming community to all, especially to individuals who identify with Persian heritage, while also spreading awareness of Persian culture, according to the Persian Student Society’s Wisconsin Involvement Network page.
“PSS has applied for and received several grants from campus organizations,” Besharat explained. “We have continued to be active on our social media accounts and have held two events so far — Shabe Yalda and Nowruz [New Year].”
Editor's note: This story was updated on Dec. 17 at 4:14 p.m. to remove a quote for the protection of the source.