Spring is here, let the festivities begin
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The first day of spring, or the spring equinox, falls on Wednesday this year in the Northern Hemisphere, although the date of spring festivals, when people celebrate the welcome change in season, varies across the world.
The spring equinox, which is also known as the vernal equinox, marks the moment in the year when the Earth's equator is closest to the sun. The date varies every year from March 19 to March 21 and people across the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the arrival of warmer weather with rituals marking the theme of renewal.
From China to California, residents head outdoors to enjoy the cherry, peach and plum blossoms.
Nowruz, the Persian New Year, falls on Thursday, March 21 and is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia as well as in the Kurdish pockets in Iraq and Turkey. The festival has long been considered a pagan ritual among hardline Sunni Muslims with conservative clerics and Islamist governments historically attempting to ban Nowruz celebrations in minority areas.
In Afghanistan, Nowruz was banned under the Taliban, with the popular festival only revived after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the hardline Islamist group from power. But as the US pushes for a troop drawdown with the Taliban gaining territory and influence, the ancient festival is under a shadow of fear and doubt as Afghans once again contemplate a likely ban on Nowruz.
Sanctions-hit Iran celebrate Nowruz on diminished scale
In Iran, Nowruz is marked by a public holiday and nationwide celebrations even though the roots of the festival in ancient Persia go back to Zoroastrianism. In India, home to the world’s largest Zoroastrian population, Nowruz is celebrated by the minority Parsi and Irani communities.
The run-up to Nowruz in Iran is a high shopping season, with Iranians buying new clothes, as well as large amounts of fruits and nuts.
US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the restoration of crippling sanctions had made it difficult for many Iranian families to celebrate the festival with the grandeur of past years.
But the key rituals of Nowruz will continue to be maintained, including the setting of seven symbolic items starting with an 'S', called Haft Seen in Persian.
Seven is considered a lucky number in Persian culture, and each item is thought to signal a prosperous and bountiful year ahead. The Haft Seen items are seeb (apple), sekkeh (coin), sabzeh (grass shoots), somagh (sumac), sonbol (hyacinths), samanoo (wheat pudding) and serkeh (vinegar).
Other spring festivities include Holi in India and the Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain. The Christian festival Easter, also falls in spring and the themes, such as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and symbols, like The Easter egg, are also associated with rejuvenation and renewal.