The Maya Calendar – Part 2 – Haab, the Solar Year

This post “The Maya Calendar” is an excerpt of the second edition of my book “The Maya Sites – Hidden Treasures of the Rain Forest”, a travel guide to the most important Maya sites on the Yucatán peninsula – in México and Guatemala. The second edition will be published as print and ebook in spring 2018.

I split this article into seven parts:

Haab – a Calendar for the Solar Year

The calendar closest to our solar calendar is the “Haab” calendar. The word in Yucatecan Maya, the Mayathan, simply means year. This calendar, like our Gregorian calendar, is aligned with the solar year and lasts 365 days.

The original purpose of the Haab calendar was to predict or incorporate the recurrent events that were important in the life of the Maya. Sowing and harvesting, dry or rainy seasons or even dates for the beginning of the hunting season or the collection of honey were indicated by the Haab calendar.

In his book, Diego De Landa describes numerous ceremonies, rituals, and festivals, which were performed in the various periods by the Maya under the guidance of their priests.

The Haab calendar is divided into months similar to our calendar. These months are called Uinal or Winal in Mayathan. Each Uinal period has a duration of 20 days.

That’s why you need 18 Uinal to fill up the year. As a result, you get 360 days.

The remaining 5 days are called Wayab, the nameless days, and finally added as a separate period. Thus the 365 days of the solar year are complete.

The ancient Maya used a special hieroglyphic symbol or sign for each month.  The tables below show the months in their order, with the symbols used and a few notes from the records made by Diego De Landa for each month.

Number

Monat

Meaning

Cholan

0

Pop

Mat

K’anjalab

0-pop

Symbol for community and marriage. The first month of the year. After an extended fasting period of at least 13 days, the year started with a New Year celebration.


1

Uo

Frog

Ik’at

Consecrated to the god Itzamna, the god of magic, medicine and the priest. Ceremonies were initiated by a fasting period, especially priests and medicine men.


2

Zip

Deer

Chak’at

2-zip

This month was probably dedicated to the god of hunting, Zip. Hunters and fishermen performed certain ceremonies and fasted.


3

Zotz

Bat

Sutz’

3-zotz

This month, beekeepers started to prepare the ceremonies for the next month.


4

Tzec

Death

Kasew

4-tzec

This month the beekeeper ceremonies took place.


5

Xul

Dog

Chikin

5-xul

In the month of Xul, the festival “Chicc Chaban” was celebrated in honor of Kukulkan. Comedians went from house to house collecting donations for the temples.


6

Yaxkin

New Sun

Yax K’in

6-Yaxkin

Time for preparations. Instruments were cleaned and items were painted blue. Children were given 9 light blows on the ankles, which would make them as skilful craftsmen as their parents would.


7

Mol

Water

Mol

7-mol

With great care, new images of the gods were carved from wood this month. The activities were accompanied by blood rituals.


8

Chen

Cave

Ik’Sijom

8-Chen

This month, the images of the gods created the previous month were brought to the temples and blessed.


9

Yax

Green

Yax Sijom

9-yax

In the month of Yax or the month of Chen, a feast called Ocná was celebrated for the renewal of the temple. Earthen idols were renewed.


10

Zak

White

Sak Sijom

10-zak

This month, the hunters celebrated a second festival to soothe the gods for the shed blood


11

Keh

Red or Deer

Chak Sijom

11-keh

De Landa has not left any records for this month.


12

Mac

Capstone

Mak

12-mac

The elders of the community brought animals they had caught to the top of the temple, where the animal hearts were burned in a ceremony. The fires were extinguished with water from pitchers dedicated to the rain gods.


13

Kankin

Yellow Sun

Uniw

13-kankin

Also for this month, Diego de Landa has left no records.


14

Muwan

Muwan (Bird)

Muwan

14-muwan

Thanksgiving ceremonies were held by owners of cocoa plantations this month. Iguanas and dogs were sacrificed.


15

Pax

Planting Time

Paxil

15-pax

A month dedicated to the warriors. Dogs were sacrificed and future happiness was prophesied.


16

Kayab

Turtle

K’anasiy

De Landa has not left any records for this month.


17

Kumku

Ripe Corn

Hul Ol

17-kumku

Also for this month, Diego de Landa has left no records.


18

Wayeb

The “five nameless days”

Uway Hab

18-wayeb

In this only 5 days lasting month no activities were started. People stayed home because it was assumed that these days would bring bad luck.


The individual 20 days of the month have no names but are numbered from 0 to 19.

7 Pop or 14 Zip are therefore certain days in the Mayan calendar, such as August 1st or December 24th for us. The Mayathan word for  “day” is Kin.

The Maya year in the Haab calendar starts with the date 0 pop. According to the records of Diego de Landa, this was always on July 16 (Julian) or on July 26 (Gregorian). Remind, that at the time of Diego de Landa the Julian calendar was still in use.

But, at this point, Diego de Landa may be wrong. According to his report, the Maya used a calendar correction, which he calls a leap year. An additional day was inserted every 4 years according to our leap year.

Leap Year?

Due to this hypothetic additional day in a leap year, the Maya year on the Haab calendar would actually have started on the same day every year.

However, the content of this statement is called into question by modern Maya researchers because it would not explain the synchronization of the various calendars, as used in the inscriptions.

The actual opinion of the Mayanists is that the Maya used no leap year, at least not during the period in which the inscriptions were created.

The lack of a leap year would have shifted the beginning of the Maya year every four years by one day.

So it remains a mystery. The Maya may have had reformed their calendar at the time Diego de Landa noted his findings, as it was the case with the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar system in Europe.

After all, between the time of the last classic inscriptions and the conquest by the Spaniards more than 600 years had passed, a time about which we are only sparsely informed.

>>> Continue with: The Maya calendar – Part 3 – Tzolkin, the Sacred Calendar


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Christian Schoen

Christian Schoen is a globetrotter, travel writer and author of the very successful travel guide "Die Ruinenstädte der Maya", published in Germany. He loves to visit temples, pyramids and any kind of ancient ruins. The SLR in his hand, he can be met on adventurous hiking tours in tropical jungle landscapes - sometimes - or just somewhere in his neighbourhood, the Black Forest Mountains in Germany.