This Christmas I had the great fortune of visiting Guatemala. I really enjoyed answering the question, “Why did you decide to come to Guatemala?” which I was asked by locals more than I had expected.
I always answered that Guatemala was the centre of the Mayan civilization and that I wanted to have front row seats for the “end of the world.” This always got a grin and a good laugh most of the time.
“Hollywood,” they would say, while they shook their heads.
If you thought the end of the 13th Baktun (on December 21, 2012) meant the end of the world, well, the Mayans were laughing at you, at least any of the Mayans I met.
One cycle of the calendar coming to an end doesn’t signify the end of the world in the Mayan culture any more than it does in ours.
Okay, so maybe there was some stockpiling of water and canned goods for Y2K. I think we need to get our catastrophobia under control.
I didn’t get a really good explanation of the Mayan calendar, but my understanding goes a little like this:
There are 20 days in unit of measure that equates loosely with months and there are 19 of these units in a unit that equates loosely with a year. This rolls upwards in units of measure to the end of the 13th Baktuns that were laid out in the Mayan calendar.
At this point catastrophobes thought the world would end, but the rest of us flipped the calendar back to the beginning and started again.
Far from the panic and food-hoarding you would expect to see from a population that had predicted imminent demise, there was only celebration in Guatemala.
On December 21, 2012, we were privileged enough to be invited to a small ceremony conducted by a single Mayan elder from a village near Panajachel. She was a friend of our host family and frequented the commercial calle (avenue) to sell her wares throughout the year. She had been invited to conduct her ceremony for the end of the 13th Baktun there.
Far from a commercial venture, there was no way we could pass money to either the elder, or the stores in front of which she was conducting the ceremony. At most you could donate candles that would be used in the ceremony.
I was very happy not to be among the large crowds at the choreographed and organized ceremonies in Tikal that day. My experience felt much more authentic.
Aside from the Mayan ceremonies, there were lots of fireworks. The Guatemalans love their fireworks.
They seemed to be going off constantly; they were the lullaby that put us to sleep at night and the alarm going off in the morning. Actually, there did seem to be enough fireworks over the holidays to spell the catastrophic destruction of a small county, if used improperly.
Our family almost brought about the catastrophic end of a gas station with our own fireworks.
But that is my son Ben’s story to tell, so if you see him you should ask about it.