Sadeh, Çardæ, an ancient Aryan winter festival of bonfires
Sadeh or more accurately Çardæ is the most important ancient Iranian/Aryan winter festival, celebrated by kindling huge bonfires. Sadeh/Çardæ falls on or about January 30th or 40 days after winter solstice or the yal-daa festival. It marks the end of the winter solstice celebrations.
The etymology of the word Sadeh is much debated. Contemporary accounts generally derive it from the numeral ṣad (one hundred). The most common explanation of the term is that within the five-month period of the “Great Winter,” counted from the first day, the festival falls on the 100th day of winter. According to another, less convincing explanation, “one hundred” stands for 50 days plus 50 nights that separate Sada from Nauv-rooz.
In my opinion and based on the Avestan evidence, sadeh is the corrupted form of the Avestan Çaräd “cold, freezing;” and refers to the coldest and chilliest night of the winter also known as chelle. In Ancient Iranian folklore the 40th day of winter and/or summer, respectively mark the coldest night or the hottest day of the year.
Sadeh/Çardæ festival also shares a lot in common with the Viking fire festival of Up Helly Aa. Like Sadeh/Çardæ, Up Helly Aa refers to a variety of fire festivals held in the middle of winter to mark the end of the yule season.
The etymology of Up Helly Aa is also fascinating. Up is used in the sense of something being at an end/culmination. It is derived from the Old Norse uppi, Compare to the Avestan úpá. Helly refers to a holy day, Compare with the Avestan haúr “healthy, vibrant, every healing power or energizing formula,” Old Norse helgr (helgi) meaning a holiday or festival, healing event. aa means “all.”
The Sadeh/Çardæ night was considered the coldest night of the year. It was believed that on that night the winter came out from the hell (Biruni, Āṯār, tr. Sachau, p. 226; Qazvini, p. 80.) It was celebrated by kindling enormous bonfires, drinking red wine, and feasting around the bonfires.
While the custom of lighting bonfires on the Sadeh/Çardæ night is unknown to the Zoroastrian Parsees in India, Iranian Zoroastrians are still practicing it as a part of their most holy religious observances.
The traces of Sadeh/Çardæ have survived among non-Zoroastrian population of many regions of Iran as well.
Sadeh/Çardæ bonfires are reported for the Northeastern cities of Neyshápur, Ferdows, Sabzevár, and Torbat-e Heydariya in Khorasan (Mirniā, pp. 226-27; Rażi, pp. 604-8), for the city of Ḵur in Kavir (Jašn-e Sada, pp. 32-35), and for Lālazār in the province of Kermān.
Until modern times a fire festival called Jeljelāni had been held in the city of Naṭanz in central Iran.
The custom of kindling Sadeh/Çardæ bonfires by non-Zoroastrians was reported for the Ravānduz region in Iraqi Kurdistan and for Šabestar in Azerbaijan (Jašn-e Sada, pp. 32-33), as well as for Kurdish tribes of Mahābād, Kermānšāh, and Qaṣr-e Širin.
A similar fire festival is celebrated in mid-February by the Kurds of Turkey, Armenia, and Iraq, and it coincides with the Christian Armenian festival of Derendez (Jašn-e Sada, pp. 89-90; cf. Enjavi-Širāzi, II, pp. 120-24).
Happy Sadeh/Çardæ and may your bonfires be ever bright