SYDNEY—Doomsayers hunkered down on Friday to await the coming apocalypse, but most took a lighthearted view of a Mayan “prophecy” of the world’s destruction, laying on stunts and parties to while away the end.
Thousands gathered at the majestic Mayan ruins of Tikal in the jungles of present-day Guatemala to await a fiery climax to the ancient civilization’s “Long Count” calendar, which points to an era of more than 5,000 years ending.
As the appointed time came and went in several parts of the world, there was no sign of the apocalypse.
Indeed, the social network Imgur posted photos of clocks turning midnight in the Asia-Pacific region with messages such as: “The world has not ended. Sincerely, New Zealand.”
Australia was one of the first countries to see the sun rise on Dec. 21—supposedly the end of days—and Tourism Australia’s Facebook page was bombarded with posts asking if anyone had survived Down Under.
“Yes, we’re alive,” the organization responded to fretting users.
The Maya civilization reached its peak between AD 250 and 900 when it ruled over large swathes of what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. The Maya developed hieroglyphic writing, an advanced astronomical system and a sophisticated calendar.
Over the centuries, the end of the world has been predicted countless times, from the early Christians to controversial US pastor Harold Camping last year.
Basing his calculations on prophetic readings of the Bible, the great scientist Isaac Newton once cited 2060 as a year when the planet would be destroyed.
US preacher William Miller predicted that Jesus Christ would descend to Earth in October 1844 to purge mankind of its sins. When it didn’t happen, his followers, known as the Millerites, referred to the event as The Great Disappointment.
In 1997, a total of 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult, believing the world was about to be “recycled,” committed suicide in San Diego to board an alien craft they said was trailing behind a comet.
More recently, the American radio host Camping predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011, later moving the date forward five months when the apocalypse failed to materialize.
Some people found fun on the date Dec. 21.
In Taiwan, tongue-in-cheek scientists planted an electronic countdown timer atop a two-story replica of a Mayan pyramid, drawing crowds at the National Museum of Natural Science.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard set the tone with a spoof video address, vowing to keep fighting however the end came, whether “from flesh-eating zombies, demonic hell-beasts or from the total triumph of K-Pop.
Indeed, some argued online that an impending milestone for the “Gangnam Style” video of South Korean rapper Psy—one billion views on YouTube—was itself a harbinger of doom, enlisting a fake Nostradamus verse in their cause.
Across Asia, Europe and North America, many held parties like there’s no tomorrow with apocalypse-themed dinners and pub nights.
Hong Kong’s Aqua restaurant had promised to pick up the tab for its HK$2,112.12 ($273) six-course meal if the end was nigh—though patrons would have to stump up if still alive at midnight.
If the world does end, Chinese furniture maker Liu Qiyuan has his own safe haven, a fibre-glass pod he designed that can carry up to 30 people and withstand towering tsunamis and devastating earthquakes.
Farewell to the world
UFO enthusiasts were gathering in the southern Chinese province of Hunan to perform a “Mayan ritual” to attract alien visitors, the state-run Global Times reported.
But there was also a darker side in China, with authorities arresting some 1,000 people in a crackdown on a Christian sect that spread doomsday rumors.
At the Tikal ruins, actors in costumes and headdresses staged elaborate dances to a mournful pan-pipe tune ahead of the apocalypse supposedly foreseen by the Mayans.
Thousands more people flocked to another set of Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in Mexico before daybreak Friday—some to hail the start of a new Mayan era, others to bid farewell to the world.
Even though Mexican officials said no special celebrations were planned to mark the turn of the Mayan calendar, which coincides with the winter solstice, up to 20,000 revellers were awaited at the site’s pyramids.
US space agency Nasa has been contacted by thousands of worried people asking what to do. In a web page devoted to debunking the Mayan prophecies, it reassured them that the world will not end in 2012.
“Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than four billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012,” it said.
Nasa’s words were lost on those who headed to a number of towns around the world designated safe zones from the impending disaster, and others who took refuge in mountains or bunkers, or stockpiled guns and survival kits.
The village of Sirince in western Turkey has become a magnet—it is reputed to be doomsday-proof because the Virgin Mary is said to have risen to heaven from there.
Likewise, the southern Italian village of Cisternino, singled out by an Indian guru as a safe bet come the end of the world.
In Merida, the celebration of the cosmic dawn opened inauspiciously, with a fumbling of the sacred fire meant to honor the calendar’s conclusion.
Gabriel Lemus, the white-haired guardian of the flame, burned his finger on the kindling and later had to scoop up a burning log that fell from the ceremonial brazier onto the stage.
Still, Lemus was convinced that it was a good start, as he was joined by about 1,000 other shamans, seers, stargazers, crystal enthusiasts, yogis, sufis and swamis.
“It is a cosmic dawn,” Lemus declared. “We will recover the ability to communicate telepathically and levitate objects … like our ancestors did.”
Celebrants later held their arms in the air in a salute to the Thursday morning sun.
Terry Kvasnik, 32, a stunt man from Manchester, England, said his motto for the day was “be in love, don’t be in fear.” As to which ceremony he would attend on Friday, he said with a smile, “I’m going to be in the happiest place I can.”
The Dec. 21 mystery stems from a carved stone found in Tortuguero, a Mayan site in Mexico. The relief contains a cryptic allusion to something really big happening on Friday.
However, most experts interpret the calendar to mean Dec. 21, 2012, is simply the end of a 5,200-year era for the Maya and the start of another.
If that’s right, everybody can relax and make sure end of times will be the best of times.