Mayan Calendar: What the Modern Mayans of Guatemala Are Expecting, and Dreading on December 21

Guatemala's Mayans are not happy. They see their ancient spirituality at risk of being reduced to one more global tourist trap as the day approaches that others have identified, from the Mayan calendar, as pointing to the end of the world. The Guatemalan Culture Ministry is planning events to draw tens of thousands of tourists around December 21, 2012. Mayan leaders have asked them plainly not to.

Mayans make up more than half of the Guatemalan population, so you might think that the government would have asked them for guidance, if not given them the lead, in answering the world's questions about the predictions. You would be wrong.

The calendars carved in stone by the Mayans' ancestors reflect a cycle with no more expectation of coming to an end than any other civilization's calendar. There are three interlocking, but not coincidental, Mayan calendars, and the one mistakenly said to point to apocalypse, known as the "long count," has five components. The long count will reach 13 Baktun on the coming winter solstice, but it actually runs to 20 Baktun.

Guatemalan Mayans, organized as Oxlajuj Ajpop and known in Spanish as the
Conferencia Nacional de Ministros de la Espiritualidad Maya de Guatemala, are organizing a "spiritual, social, and scientific celebration of the new cycle of the Mayan calendar." They are not expecting an apocalypse, and are indeed planning their own authentic events in five "sacred spaces" to observe the cycling of time. They do not endorse the events being organized by the government to draw tourist dollars to imitations staged with discreetly and photogenically costumed dancers.

Although both the culture ministry and the tourism authority of Guatemala provide scholarly-looking information to interpret the Mayan calendar, both of their web pages also feature a "countdown clock" to the moment, framed in cartoon stone to imitate the real deal. The "Maya Dawn" even has its own English-language Facebook page. Agence France-Presse quoted Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance, as complaining that the government and tourism enterprises are "turning us into folklore-for-profit.” It's sad enough that we turn ancient spirituality into hocus-pocus. It's even sadder when we sell each other our heritages.