Understanding the Mayan Calendar

Calendars and almanacs have been used for thousands of years as a way to predict when to plant crops, harvest them, as well as various other times of the year. The Mayan Calendar was no exception! However, there are many things about the Mayan Calendar that make it unique from all the others.

What is the Mayan Calendar?

The Mayan Calendar is collectively made up of three calendars and almanacs. It was a popular system of its time and was used by various cultures throughout Central America. This calendar system was created around 5th century BCE (BCE references the time period Before Common Era).
These three calendars that form the Mayan Calendar move in a cycle pattern. The final sequence registered by the Mayan Calendar ended in the month of December in the year 2012. This led many researchers and Mayan experts to believe that the world was going to end on December 21, 2012, at 11:11 (Coordinated Universal Time) on the dot. Obviously this was proven false as it is currently December 2016 and the world continues on.

The three calendars explained

As previously mentioned, there is a total of three calendars that make up the Mayan Calendar system. These three calendars are the Haab, the Long Count, and the Tzolkin. Time is considered to be on a system of cycles, according to these calendars. When one cycle ends, another can begin. The only way that a cycle can end is with the passing of a certain number of days. However, the three calendars correspond and work together at the same time. The Long Count date is written first, then the Tzolkin date would be written, and finally the Haab date would be written last.

The Long Count (The Astronomical Calendar)

This calendar was written in front of the Tzolkin and the Haab. It was used to keep track of extended periods of time and was often referred to as the “universal cycle” by the Mayan people. The “universal cycle” is approximately 7885 solar years (2,880,000 days). According to this cycle, the universe is both destroyed and then rebuilt to begin a new universal cycle.

The Tzolkin (The Divine Calendar)

This was the calendar date that was written next. It is the Tzolkin, also known as the Divine Calendar or the Sacred Round. This is a calendar made up of 260 days which is why this calendar is used to distribute the dates. According to this calendar, there are 20 different periods, each of which is made up of 13 days. These periods were used to determine religious and various other ceremonial events. This calendar begins at “one” and ends at “Thirteen”. When day 13 is over the cycle begins again with day 1.

The Haab (The Civil Calendar)

The Haab is known as the Civil Calendar or the Solar Calendar. It is made up of 365 days and is divided up into a total of 19 months (this works out to be 20 days in 18 of the months except for one month which only has five days). Each of the 19 months is represented on the calendar by a Mayan glyph, numbers represent the days in the months, and then they are followed by the name associated with that particular month. In fact, each of the Mayan glyphs also represents an individual personality that is also associated with a particular month. The Haab is considered slightly “off” compared to the present day’s Gregorian Calendar (The Haab has 365 days, the Gregorian has 365.2422 days).
With this information in mind, the Mayan Calendar would be written as the Long Count date, the Tzolkin date, and the Haab date. For example, a Mayan Calendar date would look similar to this: 4 Ahau 8 Kumku = The Long Count date
4 Ahau = The Tzolkin date
8 Kumku = The Haab date

Who made the first Mayan Calendar?

Many people find it hard to believe that a calendar named after the Mayan civilization was not, in fact, invented by the Mayan people. This calendar system had been used by various cultures in pre-Columbian Central America as early as 2000 BCE. The Mayan people were simply one of the many cultures to adopt this calendar system. In fact, many present day Mayan people continue to use this Mayan Calendar in their communities.

How accurate is the Mayan Calendar?

Many people argue that the Mayan Calendar is far from accurate compared to our current Gregorian Calendar. They state that the Mayans created a calendar that “predicted the end of the world” and when December 21, 2012, came and went without a problem, the people assumed that everything about the Mayan Calendar must be wrong. Others believe that the Mayan Calendar is incredibly accurate as it seems to be “off” by about 45 minutes from our own Gregorian Calendar. The truth is that both calendars can be seen as correct. The Mayans (and others that followed the Mayan Calendar) needed a system to help them count the days. It seems that they were less bothered by what year it was because their higher priority surrounded the day itself. Whereas we follow a calendar that helps us count the years. They even follow a calendar that helps them schedule religious events and various other important ceremonies because this was an aspect of their daily lives that was important to them. As a whole, the Mayan Calendar totals 365 days which is nearly the exact number of days that the Gregorian Calendar totals (365.2422) which only means that we add a day to our calendar approximately every four years (February 29th) and they simply do not.
The various cultures that followed the Mayan Calendar did so as a means of determining when to plant their various crops, when to harvest them and when their religious ceremonies should be held. They even counted the days with their complex three calendar system. However, what this calendar system is most remembered for is the way it shook the world as for December 21, 2012, approached 11:11 UTC and how the world did not end.