The Mayan Calendar

When you are out shopping for gifts to take back home, you are likely to come across shops that sell items representing the Mayan Calendar. The various figures and icons that adorn this ancient system of time watching are quite mysterious, but steeped in meaning. So what exactly is the calendar and how was it used?

First off, the Maya didn’t invent the calendar, but rather borrowed it. It was used by most cultures in pre-Columbian Central America as far back as 2000 BCE. It is system of three interlacing calendars and almanacs that date back to the 5th century BCE. In fact, there are Maya communities that still make use of it today. The calendar moves in cycles, the last one ending on December 21, 2012, which many people incorrectly assumed meant the end of the world.

The Mayan Calendar consists of three calendars: The Long Count, the Tzolkin and the Haab. All three of these are used simultaneously: The Long Count date comes first, then the Tzolkin date and finally the Haab date.

The Haab is a solar calendar covering 365 days of the year. Unlike our modern Gregorian calendar it is divided into 18 months, each one containing 20 days. One month, called the Uayeb, is only 5 days long. The pictures on the calendar’s outer ring are known as glyphs, and each one represents each of the 19 months. Days are represented by a number, followed by the name of the month. Each glyph is an individual personality connected with the month. Since a solar year is slightly longer than 365 days it is not 100% accurate, which is why our modern calendars make use of leap years every four years,

The Tzolkin is the divine calendar, also known as the Sacred Round. The name translates to “the distribution of the days”. Unlike the Haab it is only covers 260 days, with 20 periods of 13 days. The Maya used it for their religious events, coordinating exact timings. Each day is numbered from one to thirteen, and then repeated in a cycle. The day is also assigned a glyph, chosen from the 20 day names available. Once each cycle is completed it repeats itself.

The Long Count was used as an astronomical calendar, tracking periods of time that the Maya referred to a the “universal cycle,” lasting approximately 7885 solar years. The Maya believe at the end of each universal cycle the universe is destroyed, then recreated once again. This is the reason why many have seen the end of the calendar as an apocalyptic prophecy for the end of the world.

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