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Mexico: In Merida, smiles and celebration on world's last day

December 21, 2012|By Catherine Watson
  • A man looks at Kukulkan pyramid as he takes part in a ritual in Chichen Itza, Mexico, on Friday. The ritual at the Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula is a celebration of the beginning of a new era in the Maya calendar.
A man looks at Kukulkan pyramid as he takes part in a ritual in Chichen Itza,… (Jacinto Kanek )

Merida, Mexico--So this is it -- the biggest New Year´s Eve ever. 

Am I scared? No, and I'm right in the midst of it.

Is anybody else scared here? No.

In fact, if you ask about the end of the world, people in Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state, are likely to roll their eyes and smile. 

As one expert put it on Mexican television Friday morning -- sounding as if she'd been asked about it far too often-- ''the Mayan calendar was cyclical. Cycles end. New ones begin."

The ancients never said the world was ending Friday. That's a myth perpetuated by easily scared outsiders. 

What's ending -- and it's a very, very big deal all by itself -- is the Long Count, a 5,125-year-long calendar cycle that the ancients dated from 3114 BC to -- well, to Friday,` as in today.  

Within the Long Count were 13 baktuns, shorter cycles of 400 years each. The 13th ends Friday. A new Long Count and its first Baktun will begin Saturday. 

This is such a rare event that the new president of Mexico is coming to Merida to speak Friday afternoon in front of the cathedral (streets have been blockaded and soldiers on guard since Thursday night -- advance security), and all week the government of Yucatan has sponsored an impressive celebration here of every aspect of Maya life, then and now. 

Serious symposia have been held every day this week at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, a stunning new museum devoted to Maya cultural history, from ancient altars to modern embroideries. And the city has offered free cultural events -- ballets, concerts, performances of folk dances, and all you had to do to attend was show up.  It has been like dropping in on a giant party.  

What does it all mean?

As one young Merida man told me, ''This is an opportunity to evolve. We can band together and become better human beings, make peace and save the planet.''

At least we can hope and try.

Now I have to catch a bus to the ruins of Uxmal for what the government calls ''an extravaganza'' of dancing and the last Sound and Light performance of the Long Count. Happy New Baktun to all!

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