Nowruz, which means "new day" in Persian, is not only the first day of the New Year, it also marks the first day of spring. This year, celebrations start in many countries on March 20. Here, festivities begin at the Sakhi Saib Shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Over 300 million people celebrate Nowruz. It can be traced back to a Zoroastrian tradition which started around 3,000 years ago and today is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and parts of China and Iraq. It is celebrated on the astronomical March equinox.
Preparations for the "new day" begin weeks ahead of time. Most traditions vary in each country, but some are shared. These women, for example, prepare a "Haft Sin" platter in Iran.
Haft Sin, or "seven S" is a well-known part of Nowruz celebrations. Elements shown here all start with the letter s - sekke (coins); sib (apples); somach (sumac); sombol (hyacinths); sir (garlic); sabsi (green things - usually peppergrass), and serke (vinegar). All of these have a symbolic meaning for the New Year.
Samanyolu is served in the feast. The sweet paste is made out of wheat germ and eaten with bread. The wheat soaks for a week and is then prepared from evening to morning. The women who make it invite people to a "samanyolu party" and sing while preparing the sweet dish.
These Iranians living in Germany celebrate the New Year with fireworks and a large fire called "charshanbeh souri." Jumping over the bonfire symbolizes jumping out of the old and into the New Year.
Everything is dusted, wiped, cleaned and polished to a sparkle for the festivities. Rugs have to be spread out outside to get them fresh after a long winter. This man in Iran is searching for a nice, sunny spot for his carpet.
Festivities can begin when the weeks of preparation are finally over. In the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i Sharif, a flag is being raised, after which it will fly for 40 days. How quickly the flag is raised determines how good the year will be.
People celebrate Nowruz in Tajikistan with traditional song and dance. In the capital Dushanbe, people gather at the stadium to watch a parade. Girls and women show off their perfectly choreographed steps.
Kurds in Turkey also celebrate Nowruz. Here, people have gathered to celebrate in Istanbul. People don new clothes and meet in public places or visit family and friends to reign in the New Year. Children receive gifts of money and candy.
For many people across the Orient, the New Year marks the start of spring. In Iran and many other countries, Nowruz starts this year on March 20. In Afghanistan, it starts a day later.