One of the biggest surprises from the Maya calendars is that, unlike the Gregorian calendar that governs the occidental world, it doesn’t show the beginning of the New Year on January 1st. What you can do at this time of year is get to know the rituals that the Maya used for closing a cycle and starting another. Here’s how you can “take stock and begin again.”
The Maya didn’t have just one way for keeping track of time, they had two main counts that have been recognized by all the researchers of this amazing culture. The ritual calendar, or “tzolkin,” governed the main events and had 13 months of 20 days each, 260 days in total. It was used for the prediction of rain, religious ceremonies, and to establish times for hunting, among other things.
The “tzolkin” was combined with the other way they counted time, the “haab” or civil calendar that had 18 months of 20 days and was used for common activities, the daily community life. At the end of each cycle (or year) five additional days called “uayabes”were added, that were used for ceremonies of thanks for belongings, to mother earth for agriculture, in homes where a thorough cleaning was done, and of course, these moments were used for reflection. It sounds similar to what we do at New Year’s, doesn’t it?
The blend of the two calendars “tzolkin” and “haab” made a longer count possible that established the New Year on different dates. Some researchers say that the Maya New Year can be around June 24, while others say that it is on July 21, following what is written in the sacred book “Chilam Balam.”
We can tell you what we know about the Maya rituals for closing (or starting) a cycle. Let’s start with the house cleaning, everything was swept, interiors and outdoor areas, and all the utensils that had been used during the year were cleaned, such as furniture, dishes, and more. If possible, they were replaced.
They also had a moment for personal meditation, a cleansing of the spirit that included a moment in touch with nature, to watch and be aware of the reality around them; the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind always had power over the harvest and life. Let’s remember that for the Maya being grateful to mother earth and being respectful of her cycles and special features were part of their way of thinking and behaving.
As a result, during those last days of the cycle, they had the goal of becoming better people, taking experiences as a learning process, and preparing themselves for the beginning of the following cycle with one of the most important ceremonies, the one of sacred fire that was presided over by Maya priests and dedicated to the gods.
All cultures have shown ways of counting time with economic, religious, and historic purposes. Regardless of the date, the beginnings of these cycles become vital for reflecting on what has happened and renewing for a new cycle. So take the best part of the Maya culture and decide to do this physical and soul cleansing for the new year.
By Violeta H. Cantarell