Contemporary ethnography has documented New Year rituals of both the traditional Mesoamerican 365-day calendar and the Catholic 365-day calendar of various Indigenous cultures. It is, however, the postclassic Yucatec civilisation, which provides extant unsurpassed sources to the pre-Euro- pean/pre-Christian ritual practice of time of the Mesoamerican 365-day calendar.[1] The accounts of the pre-European/pre-Christian Aztec New Year ritual of the 365-day calendar—the most documented and investigated Indigenous culture of Mesoamerica—by ethnographer missionaries of the 16th and 18th centuries are noteworthy inadequate in comparison to the postclassic Yucatec.

The Cyclic Calendar Ending and Calendar Inaugurating Ritual

The traditional Mesoamerican 365-day calendar incorporates eighteen units of time of twenty days each (Sp. “veintena”). The 365-day year ends, however, with a period of only five days. Thus the Mesoamerican 365-day calendar embodies 19 time components. Eighteen multiplied with twenty plus five amounts to 365 days (18 x 20 + 5 = 365 days).

The names of the 19 time units of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day calendar:[2]

  • 1. Pohp
  • 2. Wo
  • 3. Sip
  • 4. Sotz’
  • 5. Sek
  • 6. Xul
  • 7. Yaxk’in
  • 8. Mol
  • 9. Ch’en
  • 10. Yax
  • 11. Sak
  • 12. Keh
  • 13. Mak
  • 14. K’ank’in
  • 15. Muwaan
  • 16. Paax
  • 17. K’ayab
  • 18. Kumk’u
  • 19. Wayeb
  • (Thompson 1978: 104-122).

The first twenty day time period, or winik in Yucatec, is introduced by the day Pohp. 1 Pohp continues with 2 Pohp, 3 Pohp etc. until 19 Pohp and the seating (chum/cum) of 1 Wo 2 Wo, etc. The last days of the 365-day calendar are: 18 Kumk’u, 19 Kumk’u, and the seating of the five days of Wayeb, 1 Wayeb, 2 Wayeb, 3 Wayeb and 4 Wayeb. After 365 days the day of 1. Pohp returns, making this calendar a temporal cycle.

Rituals were observed in the final veintenas of the 365-day calendar of the past year and of the first veintena of the New Year in many Meso- american cultures. The 365-day calendar was organised as a cycle incorporating a final (4 Wayeb) and first (1 Pohp) day of the 365-day year. The Maya started the new veintena with a day, a zero day, before the first day of the new veintena. The coefficients are therefore 0-19, in every of the 18 w'miko’b, e.g. Pohp-Kumk’u and 0-4 in Wayeb. The first day of the year is accordingly “seating of Pohp”, the second day is 1 Pohp etc. whereas the last day of the 365-day year is 4 Wayeb. The “installing of Pohp” (chum/cum) and “the end of Wayaab (Wayeb)” (ti’) alludes to the same day. A new veintena was installed or seated when the new veintena’s first day and last day of the previous veintena overlapped.[3] The day only received a coefficient when it had been completed. 1 Poph replace the “seating” of Pohp or the first day of the New Year. A notion of a beginning or a final end did consequently not exist. As noted, this temporal system follows a cyclic and not a linear logic (Wichmann 2000: 49; Bricker and Miram 2002: 39-40). The New Year ritual represents accordingly a cyclic calendar ending/calendar inaugurating ritual.[4]

  • [1] Cf. however, colonial manuscripts from Villa Alta, which outline New Year rituals ofthe Zapotec 365-day calendar calledyza (Justeson and Tavarez 2007; Tavarez 2011: 146-151).
  • [2] Cf. Tozzer for bibliographic references to the meaning of the names of the 19 timeunits of the Yucatec 365-day calendar (Tozzer 1941: 134, note 627).
  • [3] This phenomenon was designed in the classic Maya inscriptions as “the end of’ (ti’:“mouth”, “edge” and haabf year”; ti’haab’: “the limit of the year”) (Wichmann 2000: 49).
  • [4] Fixed agricultural and seasonal ritual practices celebrated within the 365-day calendar can be perceived to delineate time in interval sequences.
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