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Mayan calendar Hallo again to all.

Have you heard about the Mayan calendar, and what one version of it has to say about the year 2012? According to popular interpretations we've followed with no little interest, on 21 or 23 December 2012 the ancient Mayan 'long-count' calendar will run out of time. Amateur disseminators of this fact (which is itself disputed depending on what ancient Mesoamerican calendar theory one accepts as definitive) fall into two camps: the innocuous and the fear-mongering.

The innocuous spin is that the last ten days of 2012 A.D. will mark the beginning of a spiritual transformation around the world. Lions will play with lambs. Famine, flood, fire and financial woe will no longer plague the people of the earth as they do today. The sun will shine on those who want it most, and the rains will give all things living their plenteousness. Although the Mayan calendar doesn't say so, we suspect that part of this beautiful new world will include Anglicans who could honestly smile at one another. These are all very nice things to think about, and if we knew that they were to begin in just over a thousand days, we'd be pretty excited, too.

The other spin—which has far more cultural traction on the internet—finds December 2012 as the beginning of a world-ending cataclysm. There will be earthquakes and natural disasters on a planet-crippling scale. Solar flares will coincide with these dates to knock out global telecommunications and electrical grids. Government, civil order, food and water supply, security systems, banking, and delivery of the post will all cease to hold society together. If you will have your Christmas shopping done already (and we won't) it's likely that your Christmas tree will not be standing upright for the placement of any gifts beneath it, and that your house may not last through the end of Advent anyway. If you'd like to be certain just when this is all going to start, you can follow it with an online countdown clock.

The world will end in 1897!Sound familiar? It should, if you were alive ten years ago during the run-up to Y2K. New Year's Day in 2000 did not bring with it the devastating mess so many had predicted. Such predictions do not tend to pan out. And we entirely expect—not just because all serious Mayanists deny that this ancient calendar is meant to be understood in the way that fear-mongers do—that the end of 2012 will not really usher in a cataclysm of the kind that some portend. The Kyoto Protocol will expire on 31 December. Queen Elizabeth II will be able to continue to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. We'll welcome you to our Epiphany party in 2013. A new presidential term will begin in the United States on 20 January a few weeks later. Time will tick away, and it may be that some kind of after-care will be necessary for 2012 enthusiasts who stand to experience a modern-day Great Disappointment.

We have our suspicions that the Mayan calendar with its end in 2012 is a bit like old copies of the Book of Common Prayer with their charming tables for finding the date of Easter. A putative future archaeologist happening upon any of the BCPs in our library could interpret them—absent the necessary context for understanding them properly—as meaning that long-ago Anglicans thought there would be no more Easters after 1897 or 1930 or 1980. We know now that these religious calendars were meant to be useful, not exhaustively descriptive, and that 1897, 1930 and 1980 were almost impossibly remote years for the people who printed the prayer books we now count as treasures.

Christ tells us clearly that the angels of heaven and even he himself do not know when time will end. (Have a gander at Mark 13 or Matthew 24 if you don't believe us.) We have a good hunch that the Mayan stone-carvers, had they themselves lasted longer, wouldn't disagree with him a bit, and that they'd have crafted further calendars with more impossibly remote years at the end of their terms of reference. So fear not this or anything else—which the angels always tell us anyway, and which we ought to heed better than we do.

See you next week. And, we hope, for a fresh Christmastide issue of AO on Sunday, 30 December 2012 as well.

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Last updated: 30 August 2009

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