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The Maya Calendar Explained

The Maya Calendar Explained

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When one hears Maya Calendar, many people will quickly relate it with the end of the world which was supposed to happen back in 2012. Luckily, it never did.

To some, the Maya calendar brings to mind the Aztec calendar, which is also quite different on its own. Some simply do not have an inkling as to what it truly is.

Back in the year 2012, a certain phenomenon about the apocalypse spread throughout the world.

Many of those who do not have an inkling about the Maya Calendar went out of their way to try and find out the facts behind it.

There was different news that came out about the Maya Calendar, some tried to clarify things, and some created more confusion.

People tried to find out what lead to a belief about the end of the world in relation to the Maya Calendar.

The Confusion

Before we delve deeper into that topic, let me first tell you what the Maya Calendar is. When one says Maya Calendar, many of us tend to picture this or something like it.

Aztec Calendar
Aztec Calendar

That is close, but let me set the facts straight. This is not a Maya Calendar. This is Aztec. Yes, there is a difference.

How do you know if it is a Maya Calendar or not? The very first thing that you have to look for are three wheels. Those wheels look pretty much like a watches cogwheels, complete with pins or teeth.

The wheels are so named Tzolk’in (smaller on the left), and Haab (larger, right). They look somewhat like this:

Like I mentioned, each wheel has a teeth. Note that the graphic representation above does not have the exact number of teeth for each wheel.

Also, there are certain depictions where the Tzolk’in wheel is inside the Haab wheel. Do not be confused.

Another unique characteristics that you can find in the Maya Calendar are the dots and bars. Just like these:

You will find one of the Maya Calendar wheels filled with these dots and bars.

A dot means one, two dots means two, three dots means three, four dots means four, and a bar means five.

A dot and a bar would translate to 6, two bars and a dot would translate to 11, and so on.

The Misnomer

You might also notice that I keep using the term Maya, not Mayans. For one, Maya is what you call the Maya people, not Mayan.

Whether it is singular or plural, it should be Maya. The word “Mayan” is used to refer to any of the members of languages or dialects are spoken by the Maya people. It should not be used to pertain to a person or a number of people.

The Origins of the Maya Calendar

Contrary to popular belief that the Maya Calendar is created by the Maya themselves, the calendar has actually been existing long before the Maya started using them. It is not a Maya invention.

In fact, there are several cultures in Central America that used the calendar as well, it is not exclusive to the Maya alone.

The calendar itself dates back around the 5th century BCE with the belief that it originated from Mexico’s Olmec civilization where the Aztec and Maya civilization stemmed from.

If there is anything that we can credit the Maya for, that would be further developing the calendar and its uses to how it is viewed and used to date.

Also, not everyone in the Maya civilization knew how to use or read the Maya Calendar. The only people privileged to have the complete knowledge of how to utilize the complex calendar are the ruling elite.

For the Maya people, the calendar is a source of great power and to be privileged with such sacred knowledge is truly a blessing.

The Maya Calendar

When we say Maya Calendar, we are not simply pertaining to one calendar that spans for a year – which is often the case nowadays.

Most of the people around the world are used to the Gregorian calendar which tells us not only the dates but also the deaths of certain famous or remarkable people, money and when we can earn it (holidays).

The Maya Calendar, on the other hand, focuses on the natural cycles of the earth and celestial bodies.

Also, it is made up of three calendars which work together to give a specific date. Remember that all those three calendars, namely Tzolk’in, Haab, and the Long Count are used simultaneously.

The date format based on the Maya calendar also differs from that one we are used to nowadays. Whereas MM-DD-YYYY or DD/MM/YY and many other formats, the Maya date format goes like this.

Yes, it looks way different from the date format we are used to. Apart from the fact that the Maya date above translates to May 4, 2018, of the Gregorian calendar, it is also composed of way more numbers than we are familiar with. So, do not even bother trying to figure out which goes where.

Here’s a fact: The Maya Calendar has their own dates, months, years, and ways of counting them. So there is no way you will be able to directly translate that.

Mayan Day Sign

Do you know your zodiac sign? Of course you do. While there are 12 astrological signs, this system has 260 different signs!

Ancient Mayan Calendar

The Calendars

To determine the date using the Maya Calendar, you will have to look at the position of the Tzolk’in and the Haab calendars.

These two calendars alone can already create a total of 18,980 combinations, which are all unique.

They help identify each day within a 52-year period uniquely – a period where the Haab and the Tzolk’in calendars align. The cycle is called Calendar Round.


Haab or the Solar Calendar consists of exactly 365 days. The word Haab, when translated, means year which makes sense as it contains the 365 days of a year.

There are 19 months in the Haab in total. The 18 months of the Haab is made up of 20 days each. The remaining one month remains and it consists of 5 unnamed days, which is called by the Maya “Uayeb”.

The Haab has an outer ring with Maya glyphs that represent each of the 19 months. Each month is then followed by Maya glyphs that represent days.

One might say that the Haab is quite inaccurate, so to say, as it only has exactly 365 days. The actual number of average days where the Earth orbits the sun is around 365.24219.

Each month of the Haab calendar are named as follows, in order:

  • Pohp
  • Wo
  • Sip
  • Sotz
  • Sek
  • Xul
  • Yaxkin
  • Mol
  • Chen
  • Yax
  • Sak
  • Keh
  • Mak
  • Kankin
  • Muwan
  • Pax
  • Kayab
  • Cumku
  • Uayeb

To better give you a picture of the Haab, imagine a big cogwheel with 365 teeth. Divide those teeth into 19 groups.

18 of groups consist of 20 teeth or days and 1 group is consist of 5 teeth or days.


Tzolk’in or the Sacred Calendar is consist of 20 name days or sun signs. The name Tzolk’in means the distribution of the days.

It is also known as the Divine Calendar or the Sacred Round. This calendar is used to tell the time of ceremonial or religious events in the Maya civilization.

The Tzolk’in is a 260-day calendar. The 260 days are divided into 20 periods and each period is made up of 13 days.

Each period is represented by a glyph. Each day in a period is numbered or labeled from one to thirteen also known as the 13 galactic tones.

The 20 Tzolk’in period or day names (sun signs) are as follows, in order:

  1. Imix’
  2. Ik’
  3. Ak’b’al
  4. K’an
  5. Chikchan
  6. Kimi
  7. Manik’
  8. Lamat
  9. Muluk
  10. Ok
  11. Chuwen
  12. Eb’
  13. Ben
  14. Ix
  15. Men
  16. K’ib’
  17. Kab’an
  18. Etz’nab’
  19. Kawak
  20. Ajaw

Long Count

The Long Count calendar is an astronomical calendar that is used to measure or track longer periods of time.

By longer, we mean longer than the Haab and the Tzolk’in calendars can track. Of course, in order to track a period of time with the Long Count calendar, we will still need the help of the Haab and the Tzolk’in.

The Maya people call the Long Count as the Universal Cycle and it goes longer than the Great Cycle.

If the Great Cycle is made up of 13 B’ak’tun, the Universal Cycle is made up of 20 B’ak’tun. The Universal Cycle lasts for 2,880,000 days, which is around 7,885.2 in solar years.


Maya Translation
K’in1 Day
Uinal20 Days or 20 K’in1 Month
Tun360 Days (K’in)/18 Months (Uinal)1 Year
K’atun7200 Days (K’in)/360 Months (Uinal)20 Years
B’ak’tun144,000 Days (K’in)/7,200 Months(Uinal)/


394.26 Years (Tun)/ 20 K’atun

394.26 Years
Great Cycle13 B’ak’tun5,125.38 Years
Universal Cycle20 B’ak’tun7,885.2 Years

Example of Actual Maya Calendar Date:


You may also refer to this calendar here:

The Mayan Calendar 2018

This actual Maya calendar for this year shows the Maya glyphs that one can normally find in Maya calendar wheels.

You can get this calendar today via this link:

Do not be confused, though. It is arranged like a Gregorian calendar, complete with day names (e.g: Monday, Tuesday).

However, it amazingly includes the exact Maya translation of that exact date. And unlike our repetitive day names, you will notice how the Maya name their days uniquely.

Let me remind you, this unique day-naming goes on for 52 years!

If you are confused as to how the data in the table came to be, you have to understand that there are certain rules as to how the Maya make their computations for their calendar.

They mostly use the numbers 18 and 20 for their computations.

1 Uinal (Month) = 20 K’in (Days)1 Month = 30 – 31 Days (Exception: Leap Year)
1 Tun (Year)= 18 Uinal (Months) = 360 K’in (Days)1 Year = 12 Months = 365 Days

The Maya K’atun is made up of 20 Years whereas a year is made up of 18 months. The B’ak’tun is made up 20 Years times 20. Yes, this is not exact. 20×20 will not equate to 394.26, so let me explain further.

Uayeb and Calendar Accuracy

If you look closely at how the Maya calculate their years, you will notice the number of years (394.26) beside the B’ak’tun which is obviously not an exact number.

Some prefer to just round it off to 400, to make it easier for other people to understand. But 394.26 is how the Maya truly compute the B’ak’tun.

It would be better if we try to understand why the Maya sticks with that kind of computation instead of making it simple and just rounding it off.


Calendar accuracy – the answer to why we cannot simply round 394.26 off.  Because it takes 394.26 tropical or solar years for the Earth to make its revolution around the sun.

If you round it off to 400, soon you will find that your calendar will be off by days when compared to the exact revolution of the Earth.

This presents a problem though since the Maya uses the numbers 18 or 20 for their computation.

So, how can they get such accuracy (which the Maya calendar is known for) when they are using that kind of computation? How do the Maya compensate for it?

The trick is in their days and months. Notice that when following the Gregorian calendar, we always say 365 days. However, the Maya calendar says 360 days.

What happened to the 5 missing days then? And how can they pull-off such accuracy if they are missing 5 days?

Here is the secret. There are 5 hidden days which is not included in the computation. The Maya calls those days Uayeb or 5 unnamed days.

The Uayeb is a whole Maya month that is composed of only 5 days. The principle of the Uayeb is the same as our Gregorian calendar’s principle of the leap year.

Both the Uayeb and leap year exist to make sure that the accuracy of the calendar jives with the Earth’s cycle to the solar system.

So, why hide those days? Why are they unnamed?

The Beliefs of the Maya

Prior to discussing how the Maya calendar works, let us first discuss the beliefs of the Maya in relation to their calendar.

This is to avoid confusions are unnecessary panic caused by directly translating their beliefs to how we look at things nowadays.

In fact, what happened back in 2012 is a confusion due to lack of understanding the Maya beliefs and how they understood and look at things.

It caused modern people to unnecessarily anticipate the end of the world. They took it literally which even caused panic to some.

And so, here are some important beliefs of the Maya to better understand the Maya Calendar.

1. We are currently living in the 4th creation

For the Maya, there is no such thing as THE creation and THE end of the world.

Much like their calendars, the creation and the world’s end are cycles. Meaning they can happen over and over again.

Based on the belief of the Maya, we are currently living in the 4th creation because the first three creation of the world, the gods screwed up somewhere.

This leads them to end and recreate the world until they are satisfied with how they have recreated it. Which is why now, they are sustaining their creation.

4 Ahau 8 Cumku is the date of the LAST creation or the 4th creation. This translates to the date August 11, 3114 BC when following the Gregorian calendar.

2. Celebrating the Universal Cycle

As opposed to our reaction to the 2012 phenomenon where most of us were scared or panicked, the Maya (if their large civilization still exists) will celebrate it.

The 2012 phenomenon occurred because of our lack of understanding when it comes to the beliefs of the Maya.

The Maya believes that when the Universal Cycle comes, the world ends and then gets recreated again. They celebrate such event because they welcome and appreciate the coming recreation.

Prior to Dec. 21, 2012 (, the latest Universal Cycle happened back on Sept. 18, 1618, which is translated in the Maya Calendar as

If you check back in history, only one remarkable event happened on Sept. 18, 1618, and it has nothing to do with the end of the world.

3. Uayeb is Bad Luck

Uayeb is a Maya god of desire or lust and this is what they used to call the 5 hidden or unnamed days.

The Maya consider the Uayeb or 5 unnamed days as extremely unlucky. During the 5 unnamed days, the Maya performed sacrifices and fasting to their deities.

Uayeb being considered as extremely unlucky may just be the reason why the 5 days are hidden or not included in the computation.

I hope this helps out in making you understand the wonders and complexity of the Maya calendar.

Truth be told, there is so much more than just telling the dates using the Maya calendar. While our usual calendar tells us of great men of the past and certain important events, the Maya calendar tells us so much more.

It includes in its cycles some names of the Maya gods, the movements of the sun, the planet Venus, the moon, and even other celestial bodies.

This explains why certain prophecies are based on this complex calendar.


Sunday 19th of January 2020

How do I know my three lucky days based on the mayan calendar. Based on my calendar my moon age is 21 days NEW MOON