Jun 28 2012

Mayan calendars from a modern-day perspective

The Mayan civilization created several different calendars used long ago during the Mesoamerica civilization. The Maya had several sophisticated calendar systems, which are quite similar to the 12-month calendar cycle we use today.


Francisco, CFCA staff worker in Guatemala.

These calendars converged and ended on Dec. 21, 2012, although many experts believe the Maya thought this simply represented the end of one cycle and the start of another one.

Francisco Chavajay works in the auditing department for CFCA in Guatemala. Francisco is from the Mayan Tz¥utujil people and had these insights into Mayan calendars.

How does the Mayan calendar differ from the Gregorian calendar we use today?

The Maya had 20 calendars and in many of them their base number was 13. That number is a very important number in the Mayan calendars; as a comparison, 13 would be like the number 30 in the Gregorian calendar we use today.

For example, the “Cholq’ij,” or the lunar calendar, which consists of 20 months of 13 days each, has a cycle of 260 days. The Maya created the “Cholq’ij” calendar based on their observations of the moon¥s movements around the Earth.

The Ab’ is another Mayan calendar, similar to the Gregorian calendar we use today. The Ab’ calendar consists of 365 days in 18 months with 20 days in each month.

How would you explain the concept of a baktun (the Mayan word for a calendar cycle)?

The word baktun means to wrap, unite or cycle time. Baktun is the Mayan calendar consisting of 400 years ó this calendar contains the longest period of time for the Maya.

There are 13 baktuns in Mayan time, and each baktun is 400 years. 13 baktuns equals 5,200 years on the Mayan calendar.

All of the Mayan calendars will intersect on one date: Dec. 21, 2012. This will be the end of the 13 baktuns.

Dec. 22, 2012, will be the beginning of a new era of 13 baktuns of 400 years each ó a new era of 5,200 years.

Thousands of years ago, the Maya calculated the alignment of all our planets, which will also happen on Dec. 21.

What would you say are common misconceptions, if any, about Mayan calendars?

I think some people have related the end of Oxlajuj Baktun with the end of the world; this misconception or misinterpretation has alarmed some people, and it has awoken interest in our culture.

I am often asked, “Is it true that this will be the end of the world?”

My answer is that this is the end of a very long period of time and the beginning of a new one in the Mayan calendar.

Are you Mayan? If so, what traditional beliefs and ceremonies do you practice?

My grandfather is a medicine-man, using herbs to cure things like spider bites. In Mayan communities the medicine-man is respected and trusted even more than modern medicine. People believe in the wisdom of the elderly.

This is a great day for the Maya, a historical day and a day of celebration, and I can only imagine the magnitude of this event if our ancestors were here today.

Our Mayan ancestors interacted closely with nature. They had great respect for our Mother Earth. With this change of era, we are called to reflect on our actions toward nature.

I believe that the beginning of this new era will bring positive change for us all. There is no reason to be alarmed; life will continue.

Juliana is the mother of three sponsored children in the Hope for a Family program in Guatemala. Juliana shared many interesting Mayan cultural traditions with us, which she and her family practice.

Family in Guatemala, part of the Hope for a Family sponsorship program

From left are Juliana’s family: Eduardo, Juliana, Carolina, Estela (in front) and Maria. Eduardo, Carolina and Maria are sponsored through CFCA.

Does your child share anything about your Mayan culture with your child’s sponsor?

My son mentioned that he would like to share with his sponsor how to write certain words in our native language Kakchiquel.

He says it would be interesting because his sponsor has showed him how to write his name in English.

What family traditions do you have unique to your culture?

Our ancestors were Mayan; we inherited their teachings, beliefs, culture and language. My family is Kakchiquel.

The indigenous Mayan communities of Guatemala have much respect for the land, nature and living creatures.

Our people have a deep love for what surrounds us; we work the land with respect because it is what provides food for our family.

Our grandparents have also taught us to thank the Earth, sun and moon after our corn harvest.

The day of the harvest we prepare a ceremony using food that contains corn and our best animals. We have a similar ceremony before planting corn, called “the blessing of the seed.”

Humans must review our actions and make a commitment toward treating our Mother Earth with kindness.

With this change of era, our way of thinking must change.

When I was a little girl I remember my grandfather planting a tree; he was very old and I thought he would fall trying to plant this tree in the forest. I asked him, “Why are you planting a tree?”

My grandfather answered, “I am not planting this tree for myself; I am planting it for you.”

4 thoughts on “Mayan calendars from a modern-day perspective”

  1. Does that mean, Francisco, that the Mayan people began counting time 5200 years ago? According to the Gregorian calendar, (and I don’t mean to be mathematically strict here) the accounting began about 3188 BC? Would that be the age of the civilization? Perhaps I’ll go look it up online….

    I have been the sponsor of a native Guatemalan child for close to 10 years.
    Thank you

  2. Love the article and your newsletter in general. It’s a great way to feel more connected to your organization. Keep up the good work.

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