Lots of students are asking me what will happen a few weeks from now on December 21, 2012. Some of them are really worried, so I wanted to write a post in case you might be worried too.
If you ask, just about everyone will tell you that Dec. 21, 2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar. Why is this a big deal? Well, the Mayan calendar is actually a composite of three different calendars that fit together, like the way we use weeks and years (and sometimes lunar cycles) to measure time. There are 52 weeks (or 13 lunar cycles) in a year – but not exactly. There are a few days left over at the end. You would have to keep counting for a number of years (1,456 years if my math is good) before the new year started on the same exact day as the new week and the new lunar cycle. So the Mayan calendar is very long – about 7,885 years long. And Dec. 21, 2012 is when it finally comes to an end.
The end of the world? There are plenty of crazy ideas going around about how on December 21, a giant asteroid will hit the Earth, or how a black hole will appear and swallow the planet, or how the universe will just disappear for no apparent reason, or how a mysterious disease will suddenly turn us all into zombies. Not one of these ideas is based on facts or observations at all. They are funny – unless you are too young to know better. Sadly, many children are truly worried, even frightened, because they do not have enough experience to recognize a ridiculous piece of bad information. If you belong to that category, stop worrying! The only thing that is going to happen on December 22, 2012 is the beginning of a new Mayan calendar.
What do we do when the calendar stuck to the front of the refrigerator expires on Dec. 31? Do we hide under the bed whining about the world coming to an end? Of course not. We go buy another calendar, stick it on the fridge, and start over on January 1. There are two reasons why it doesn’t occur to people to do the same with the Mayan calendar:
First, it lasts for 7,885 years, and they didn’t have refrigerators 7,885 years ago the last time it expired, so this time seems more significant. Second, the Mayan calendar was carved out of big round stones – too heavy to hang on the refrigerator anyway.
So go ahead and make your plans for December 22. As for me, I intend to build, then eat, a gingerbread house.