I was just checking on the internet whether anything interesting was going to happen in December 2012 – and guess what? According to certain long-established Mayan prophecies, the world is coming to an end just before Christmas! Did you know this? You did? Well, I’m blowed; why didn’t you say? Personally, I can’t decide how to react. Should it affect my plans at all? After all, in many ways, preparing for Christmas is quite similar to preparing for the end of world, what with all those satsumas and nuts and tubs of sweets.
Anyway, in case you weren’t aware of all the facts (and I use the word ‘facts’ here quite loosely), this December marks the cataclysmic end of a ‘long count’ Mesoamerican calendar period that has lasted 5,125 years (such a period is called a b’ak’tun). Evidently, a lot of people have been aware of this momentous countdown. As long ago as 1966, the world was alerted to the date December 21, 2012 – one can only suppose that certain Mesoamerica fans have spent the past three decades planning their outfits and ceremonially baking hedgehogs in mud (or was that the Aztecs?). But it’s funny. For me, in advance, 2012 was all Jubilee and Olympics. Armageddon was never on the list of things to look forward to – although, I must say, to look on the plus side, if it does come about, Clare Balding is really on a roll.
Will the knowledge of the impending Last Things change the sort of presents one buys this year? I think so, yes. Not so many five-year diaries; more gas masks, candles, distress flares and bags of splints. With the big day falling on December 21, it will be sensible to adopt the last-minute approach to Christmas shopping. To be honest, these so-called Mayan predictions are a) muddled and b) contested quite fiercely by Mayan experts, so we are probably OK. It’s also possible that the predictions indicate just a three-day black-out, rather than the end of civilisation. But I welcome any hypothesis that suggests that the dawning of Christmas isn’t a totally foregone conclusion – so I’m not ruling it out altogether.
I wonder if the papers will do anything? Or maybe they’ll just wait until it happens. That’s certainly how they deal with Christmas itself. When I worked regularly for the papers, I was enraged by the fact that every year, around December 19, my editors would suddenly realise, with astonishment, that they had a lot of space to fill over the coming fortnight, ideally with timeless, reflective pieces (written by people like me), that could have been commissioned months before, when things were quiet. ‘Lynne, it’s Christmas in six days’ time!’ they would say, as if delivering news. ‘Yes. I know,’ I would say. ‘And the interesting thing about that is: it was always going to be.’ ‘Well, yes, but it’s here now. So how about a 2,500-word piece with lots of facts in?’
In case you’re wondering what will actually happen on December 21, there’s a handy film-maker’s impression on YouTube – The Longest Night – showing a man in a flat flickeringly illuminated by candles. We are 42 hours into the sunless b’ak’tun transition, and he is running low on vitamin D. From outside, there is the sound of street-level chaos – police sirens, shouting mobs, general apocalyptic moaning.
What we soon discover is that civil unrest and lack of sunlight are driving everyone to a state of terrible over-acting: a crazed man in a menacing parka jacket breaks in and attempts to take refuge, but is violently resisted by one of the neighbours, an improbably well-armed little old lady (with a rifle). It’s a riveting film, in its way. But what I liked best was the comment someone had posted – from Alaska. It put the whole thing in perspective. ‘Tell me when it’s all over,’ she says. ‘Up here we won’t be able to tell the difference.’
Read Lynne Truss every month in Saga Magazine.