Since time immemorial, Nowruz has marked the first day of spring and the start of the New Year for the people of Iran. Yet Nowruz is celebrated by many other nations. So important is the tradition to millions of people from different ethnic and linguistic communities that in 2009, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization) added seven countries sharing this ancient celebration to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

They were Iran, Azerbaijan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Since November 30, the list also includes Afghanistan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan – bringing the total to 12.

UNESCO set up the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity to raise awareness of the importance of cultural practices and expressions, and to recognize the traditions and know-how of communities it identifies as repositories of cultural diversity.

Nowruz (variously known as Nauryz, Navruz, Nawrouz, Newroz, Nevruz, Nooruz, or Novruz) is, in many countries along the Silk Road, a secular holiday that marks the renewal of nature in the Northern Hemisphere. Celebrated on (or around) March 21 as the beginning of the New Year by over 300 million people, it is a festivity that dates back over 3,000 years to at least the 6th century B.C. Its origins lie in Zoroastrianism, for which the return of spring had great spiritual significance: it symbolized the triumph of good over evil and joy over sorrow.

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The Nowruz tradition has been passed on for millennia, incorporating new social and cultural influences as it has spread along the Silk Road. It is celebrated by the Parsis on the Indian subcontinent; the Kurdish people of Iraq, Syria and Turkey; Iraqi Turkmens; Turkish Azerbaijanis and Yoruks; Kazakhs in the Bayan-Olgii Province of Mongolia; and the Uyghur, Kazakh, Uzbek, and Kirgiz people in China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, among others. Though the customs and traditions accompanying the celebrations vary from country to country, many are shared.

Since 2010, March 21st has been proclaimed the International Day of Nowruz by the United Nations General Assembly, following a draft resolution introduced by Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.