First things first, what does it look like?
Traditionally we expect to see something a little bit like this
|Image taken from the Daily Mail|
|Image taken from How Stuff Works|
Well we have days, months, years, counts and cycles to get our heads around so we will go with a step by step approach and hopefully you will still be with me at the end!
The lowest unit is a kin or 1 day and 20 kin make 1 uinal or 1 month...with me so far? Each uinal is based on the movements of the moon making the Maya calender lunar focused.
18 uinal is equal to 1 tun which is 360 kin, after the 20th kin of the 18th uinal there are 5 days left over, these are known as wayeb. These days are particularly important as they are free days, meaning all gods are able to access the world, even those of the underworld. This means that all fires must be put out and the Maya community almost becomes one of mourning; fires must be put out, no food can be consumed if it has been cooked and there are even rules about washing and brushing hair. To break these rituals is to invite the gods of the underworld into your life and bring upon bad luck; to be born in these days is considered a terrible curse and your life would be filled with misery.
20 tun is equal to 1 katun and 20 katun is equal to 1 baktun which is about 394 years. Still with me? This continues up to 1 alatun which is equal to about 63 million years, so what does this mean for the end of the world? Well considering the calender only started on August 6th 3114BC with the beginning of the Maya world, we have a while left yet!!
So what about these counts and cycles?
First we have the Tzolkin cycle, this is known as the divine calender and is needed to make sure all religious activity occurs at the right time. It consists of 260 days or kin each with a number from 1-13 and one of 20 Maya names. The cycle starts again after reaching the 260th day.
Then we have the Haab cycle, this is where the uinal and the tun come into things. This calender is solar based, providing the 360 'normal' days and the 5 days of wayeb or 'free' days, full of bad luck. Unlike we do in our calender the Maya did not take the quarter days into consideration. The original uinal were named according to seasonal processes, which was logical until the quarter days were left out...then eventually the uinal names were a little more abstract. After the Haab cycle has been completed 52 times, it is judged to be the end of the Calender Round, this occurs once in most lifetimes; meaning a longer dating method is needed, this is the Long Count.
The Long Count is a means of calculating when an event happened in relation to a set day, this start day is thought to be August 6th 3114BC in our calender. It is this count that is said to have ended today, however, Long Counts also run in cycles and instead of being the end, its really a beginning. Today wasn't about doom and gloom, instead a celebration of a new beginnings!
So there we have it...the Maya Calender. Hopefully you stuck with me to the end and all made some sense at least.