Apocalypse not

Disaster averted as Mayan calendar ends; gifts can still be exchanged Wednesday

Whether the planet Nibiru is, in fact, lurking on the far side of the sun remains to be seen, but it appears Earth has survived the conclusion of the Mayan calendar. Now, with the end of the world off the table, we can resume last-minute Christmas shopping.

Then again, while avoiding the destruction of the planet is always a happy thing, it also means that recordings of The Chipmunks singing Christmas music, your most annoying relatives and fruitcake made it, too. We take the good with the bad.

Exactly where this Mayan calendar business got started is unclear. The Mayan calendar, called the “long count” calendar, is made up of 394-year cycles called “baktun.” The calendar concludes with the 13th baktun, which ended Friday. A stone tablet found in Mexico in – of course – the 1960s made what the magazine The Week described as “an oblique reference to a god of war descending from the sky at the end of the 13th baktun.”

It also reported that archaeologists found a brick fragment with an inscription that “could be another reference to the same portentous date.” Of course, the word could also implies “may not,” which further suggests that those archaeologists may not know what that brick says.

But who wants to let quibbles like that get in the way of a good end-of-the-world tale? And with that, a whole raft of theorists appeared, followed by books, websites, even a movie, spinning all kinds of imaginative scenarios for how the end will come for Earth and its inhabitants. Beyond the usual list of horribles – fire, floods, earthquakes and the like – the principle concerns seem to be the idea that the planet’s magnetic field will reverse or that Earth will collide with a rogue planet such as Nibiru.

The reversal of the magnetic field has happened in the past, although not since the invention of the Internet. Its potential affect on Facebook, therefore, is not well understood.

On the other hand, the downside to smashing into another planet is easy to grasp. Never mind that the total evidence, scientific or otherwise, for the existence of Nibiru – let alone that it might collide with Earth – is exactly zero. Nonetheless, The Week reports that NASA has said it has received about 10 calls per day from people “asking about the end of the world, with some asking if they should kill themselves.”

Just to be clear, for anyone wondering about that last part: The answer is “no.”

It is hardly surprising, but the people who approached the whole Mayan-calendar-end-of-the-world thing most reasonably were the Mayans, about 10 million of whom still inhabit Mexico and Central America.

For starters, as anthropologists point out, the Mayan concept of time is cyclical, not linear. The end of one baktun heralds the beginning of another. Perhaps on Saturday, the “long calendar” simply reset to Day 1.

More to the point, as the head of the Guatemalan confederation of Mayan priests told The Week, “There is no concept of apocalypse in the Mayan culture.”

A concept that does seem to be there is commerce. And with that, the Mayans have been setting up tours, apocalypse-related events and various other Mayan inspired happenings to separate believers from their money. Mexican tourist official expected record crowds in the weeks leading up to the end of the world.

Exactly what explains all this is a question for psychology. But from their frequency, it is pretty clear we love our doomsday predictions.

For now at least, we can rest easy about Nibiru and the Mayan calendar. But if we need a good panic rush, there is always the fact that the shopping days until Christmas are all but gone. And there still might be fruitcake.