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What Really Happened On December 21, 2012?

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Mayan calendar with December 21 2012 overlay.

If you, like me, are fascinated by conspiracy theories, secret societies, and the mysteries of life, you have probably heard of the prediction that the world would end on December 21, 2012. As we are still here over a decade later, and the world has not ended, clearly, that prediction was off. But what was behind the whole thing anyway? Why did people think the world would end, and what really happened that day?

Please sit back and enjoy a little blast from the past with me as I revisit one of the world’s most interesting conspiracy theories and cataclysmic predictions. Why did people think the Mayans predicted the world’s end in 2012? What was behind the idea of a cataclysmic event? Let’s jump in and get to the bottom of it.

Where Did The December 21, 2012, Doomsday Date Come From?

The idea behind the doomsday date of December 21, 2012, was rooted in misinterpretations. It was based on the idea that the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar would run out. Often referred to as the Mayan calendar or the Mayan Long Count Calendar, many pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures used this calendar. One of the most notable of these was the Maya civilization.

Understanding The Mayan Calendar

Man is waiting for end of the world sitting on brick path holding Mayan calendar.
Learning more about the Mayan calendar helps you better understand the theories behind 12/21/2012.

The Long Count calendar is a linear calendar created around a vigesimal base-20 system. This means it uses 20 different digits, both numerical and letters. The Mayan Long Count calendar kept track of all the days since the beginning of time (according to the Maya). This period was called an Epoch. The beginning, as they saw it, started on the date of August 11, 3114 B.C. This date is also called the “base date,” marking the start of the Long Count. This specific Long Count was considered a “Great Cycle,” a period of 5,125 years.

For the Maya, time worked cyclically. When one Long Count ended, another began. They believed the world went through distinct phases of time. Before the start of that Long Count, they believed there had been three previous worlds or periods of time. Their count set the fourth “world” to end on December 21, 2012.

According to the Mayan calendar, a Grand Cycle was a period of 25,630 years, which equals five Great Cycles. They believed that a Grand Cycle had begun in 23,618 B.C. and would end in 2012. The end of that calendar did not mean an apocalypse. It simply meant rolling into another time cycle. December 22, 2012, began the next Long Count, or Epoch, of the Mayan calendar. The Mayans have names for the Long Counts, suggesting more to come. The idea of this calendar predicting the “end of time” sparked some widespread, wild conspiracy theories and doomsday predictions.

Did The Mayans Really Think The World Would End?

The Mayans never actually predicted the doomsday scenarios that took the world by storm. Much of their belief and timekeeping was distorted and interpreted in unusual ways. The end of their Long Count was not a prediction for the end of times. It was simply the end of a time cycle and the threshold of another. No evidence from any Mayan literature suggested that the world or time would end on that date. The connection was manufactured by exaggerated interpretations of an ancient culture we have yet to fully understand.

Time & The Mayan Calendar

In reality, the Maya used several different calendars. To them, time was more than simply the passing of days. It involved spiritual cycles, and most of their calendars were heavily rooted in their spiritual beliefs. Their calendars also covered several different periods of time.

Like our calendars, the Mayan calendars rolled into the next one, the same way our years start over every twelve months. We operate on one calendar, but the Mayans used several others along with the Long Count. These were shorter, all worked together and were based on a numerical system the Maya created, which focused on the numbers 13 and 20.

A 260-day calendar called the “Tzolk’in” was based on ritual cycles, and every day had its own name and purpose. A longer calendar of 365 days called the “Haab” represented a year. Within this year, the days were divided into 18 named months of 20 days and one month of five unnamed days. These five days were thought to be unlucky, and the Mayan people would fast and make offerings to the deities on these days. Another calendar, called the “Calendar Round,” took consecutive 365-day years and formed a longer cycle equaling 52 years.

Mayan days were referred to by several dates, always in the following order:

  1. Day number and day name in the Tzolk’’n
  2. Day number and month name in the Haab

According to the Long Calendar, days would repeat every 52 years or 18,890 days.

4 Myths & Misconceptions About The 2012 End Of World Prediction

The misinterpretations and creative leeway taken with the translations of the Mayan Long Count and the ideas behind it led to a wide range of predictions and conspiracy theories about the 2012 world’s end. Most predicted a cataclysmic event set to wipe out humanity or some other horrific disaster. Many predictions involved celestial activity, like a solar maximum, planetary alignment, and even a mysterious planet set to collide with the Earth. Below, I explain just a few doomsday predictions and conspiracies from 2012.

1. Myth: The Mayans Predicted A Galactic Alignment Of 2012

Solar system poster with planets and their names.
According to some interpretations, the ancient Mayans were believed to have foreseen a rare phenomenom where the sun, Earth, and the center of the Milky Way galaxy would align on December 21, 2012.

Some people believed that the Long Count calendar was more than a simple calendar. The theory posited that the ancient people had predicted a particular galactic alignment coinciding with 2012. Research indicates that the Mayan calendar was synchronized to some astrological elements, such as the alignment of some constellations with the sun. They were also able to predict solar eclipses hundreds of years into the future. The Maya often referred to future events in their calendar, leading to the belief that they had predicted the future.

The idea of a galactic alignment got connected with the Mayan calendar but was not something legitimate Mayan scholars ever connected with them. However, that did not stop the quasi-science associated with the idea from making bold, widespread predictions.

The idea was that a rare astronomical phenomenon, which occurs just once every 26,000 years, would happen in 2012. It was suggested that the Earth, the Sun, and the center, or galactic plane, of the Milky Way Galaxy would align up perfectly, almost as if in a straight line. According to predictions, the sun would line up perfectly with the galaxy’s center. Some versions said the Earth would cross the galactic plane. Somehow, this supposed alignment was going to cause devastation to the planet. The date this was predicted to happen: you guessed it: December 21, 2012.

Reality Of Galactic Alignment

Galactic alignment does have a connection to our winter solstice. That day always has the least amount of daylight. In the days following, we start to have increased daylight hours. The solstice is a twice-yearly phenomenon. The summer solstice is the year’s longest day. The winter solstice is the shortest. These are the days when the sun’s path is either the farthest north or south of the equator.

From our perspective here on Earth, on or around the winter solstice, the sun, Earth, and our galaxy’s center may appear to be in perfect alignment. This date can change as the Earth and constellations slightly shift over time. The last time a “perfect galactic alignment” occurred was in 1998. Purveyors of many 2012 doomsday theories simply made up the connection between galactic alignment and the Mayan calendar.

2. Myth: Disaster In The Dark Rift

Milky way galaxy.
You can see The Great Rift on a moonless, cloudless night far away from city lights.

The Dark Rift is also referred to as the Great Rift. It is a dark streak that runs lengthwise through the Milky Way galaxy. It blocks our ability to see the center of the galaxy, which contains a massive black hole. The Great Rift is a giant mass of interstellar dust clouds and molecular gas.

The doomsday theories of 2012 sometimes pulled the Dark Rift into the planetary alignment theories. Somehow, the sun would pass through the galactic center and enter the Great Rift, resulting in disaster on Earth. Some said the planet’s gravitational pull would be disrupted. Others simply predicted the end of days.

Reality Of The Dark Rift

The dust clouds that make up the Great Rift are nothing more than that: interstellar dust. There is no nefarious power hidden in them. The center of the Milky Way does contain a massive black hole, which weighs approximately four million times the sun’s mass. The idea that the clouds influence the Earth’s gravitational pull may stem from this. While the black hole has a potent gravitational effect, the Earth is not close enough to be affected. Earth is 93 million miles away from the sun. We are 165 quadrillion miles away from the black hole. Along with that, according to scientists at NASA, the Earth is closer to the galactic center in the summer, not in the winter.

The doomsday theory concerning the Dark Rift and its connection to the Mayan calendar conspiracy theories of 2012 was nothing more than speculation and the connecting of many different dots. As with many other conspiracy theories, these took a little bit of information from various places and meshed it all together to create a cataclysmic prediction.

3. Myth: A Secret Planet – What Was The Planet Nibiru?

Mythical Nibiru planet approaching the earth for apocalyptic collision.
One theory held that Nibiru would approach the Earth for an apocalyptic collision.

One popular conspiracy theory and rumor connected to the supposed world’s end in 2012 was the myth of a mysterious planet or planetary object, Nibiru. Nibiru was not an actual planet, though. Through blogging and social media, it was connected to NASA but not legitimately. This connection led to some people thinking there was more to the planet than a simple rumor.

The myth of planet Nibiru was connected to a book, “The 12th Planet,” authored in 1976. In this book, author Zecharia Sitchin, a biblical scholar and eminent Orientalist, offered an interpretation of ancient Sumerian writings and tablets based on his research. He presented the idea of a once superior race inhabiting the planet and that the Earth had extraterrestrial ancestors. He also brought into the conversation the concept of Nibiru’s existence, the home planet of these extraterrestrial forebears.

In this book, Nibiru was said to orbit the sun every 3,600 years. Of course, the idea of an unknown planet got plenty of traction in the realm of conspiracy theories. The claim surfaced through different interpretations and connections that Nibiru would collide with the Earth in 2012. The conspiracy theory was furthered by the appearance of the comet Elenin in 2011. Despite obviously not being a planet, the comet’s visit fueled the idea that this rogue, mysterious planet was headed our way. Some people even believed the comet was this mysterious planet in disguise on a direct and treacherous path toward us.

Reality Of Nibiru

There is not and never has been a hidden huge planet in our solar system that looms, waiting to collide with our planet. The truth is that a planet that takes 3,600 years to orbit the sun would disrupt the balance of all the other planet’s gravitational pushes and pulls. It would have to be massive to sustain that kind of orbit (and be a planet) and would be placed even further out in the solar system than Pluto, which takes 248 years to orbit the sun. Nibiru would literally move the sun with its orbit.

If the planet Nibiru existed, the stability of our solar system would not hold. Along with that, any planet on that long of an orbit, on a course set to impact the Earth, would be visible to us by the naked eye. Nibiru, though an interesting idea, was never real nor ever connected to the Mayan Long Count calendar.

The connection between Nibiru and the Maya came mainly from a woman named Nancy Lieder, who claimed to have alien visitors who gave her information on a large planetary object that could cross paths with the Earth and destroy civilization at a set date in time. She shared these predictions with the public through her website and got significant media coverage.

Other groups picked up Lieder’s claims, and the connection between 2012 and the Mayan calendar was made. The Maya themselves never made any mention of this hidden planet or an apocalyptic event on Earth. A few believers still persist in the Nibiru theory, saying it is “soon” to collide with Earth.

4. Myth: The Earth Was Almost Taken Out By A Huge Solar Storm in 2012

Magnetic solar storm and the disruption of energy networks.
What could happen if a magnetic solar storm occurs and disrupts our energy networks?

Another 2012 conspiracy theory involved solar storms. This theory was loosely connected with the Maya but had some roots in science. Our sun is a giant ball of active gas. It constantly emits energy and has activity on its surface that changes and repeats cyclically over and over. This activity is called the solar cycle. That activity can include solar flares, which are massive explosions of energy on the sun’s surface.

Solar storms can also occur. These are slightly different from solar flares and are referred to as coronal mass ejections (CME). They are a collection of charged particles that get ejected from the sun and into the solar system.

More of this activity happens during a solar maximum. The solar maximum refers to the period of greatest solar activity during the sun’s solar cycle, which lasts 11 years. When the solar maximum occurs, more sunspots are visible, and the sun’s power, called solar irradiance, increases. Because solar activity is cyclical, we can predict that storms and other events like sunspots will happen during a certain period of time.

A solar storm was predicted for 2012 — one that had the potential to be catastrophic had it hit the Earth. These predictions, the connection to 2102, and the already rampant conspiracies turned into yet another cataclysmic, world-ending event theory.

Reality – The Solar Storm Of July 23, 2012

The reality is that an extreme solar storm did occur on July 23, 2012. The powerful coronal mass ejection headed toward and entered Earth’s orbit. However, Earth was not in the right spot to be hit, and instead, the CME hit the Stereo A spacecraft, a space-based observatory. The spacecraft was actually a twin, one of two identical space-based observatories. Their purpose was to study the structure and evolution of solar storms on the sun and to track them as they move through space.

The solar storm that occurred on July 23, 2012, was extremely powerful, more so than any that had been seen in the previous 150 years. Because Stereo A was in the right place at the right time, it was able to collect amazing data on that massive solar event. By all accounts, had that solar storm hit the Earth, we would have experienced a disruption of power grids, satellite operations, air travel, and other catastrophic effects. Though the media did not widely cover the storm itself, it is referred to as one of the biggest near misses the Earth has had of colliding with a risk of that size.

What Really Happened on December 21, 2012?

December 21, 2012, was a day like any other. It was a winter solstice. That day had the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night of the year. There was no world end, collision with a hidden planet, or massive astrological event. The Mayan calendar, widely misinterpreted, simply entered another Long Count. No earthquakes, tidal waves, or other natural disasters threatened humanity.

Due to the conspiracy theories and proclamations of an impending cataclysmic event, several things happened worldwide that day. Some were celebrations for those who were part of the Maya civilization. People worldwide held end-of-world parties. Others simply went about their daily business. There were some efforts made to deter the organization of mass suicides and other unpleasant events that were rumored to be happening on that day. Overall, December 21, 2012, came and went without any major catastrophe.

Let’s Look Into The Time Capsule

We looked back into our time capsule to see what happened in 2012. Enjoy a little blast from the past with us below.

How Many People Really Thought The World Would End?

We wanted to know how many people thought the world would end in 2012. According to a reader poll that we did back then, out of 7,339 total votes, 6,638 (90%) said No, and 701 (10%) said Yes.

Many other polls were conducted in 2012 to find out the same. According to one done by Ipsos Global Public Affairs for Reuters, about 15% or one in seven people they polled believed the world would end in 2012.

End Of World Parties

Many folks used the doomsday predictions to hold a party because either way, they may as well go out once and for all with a good time. From doomsday dips, end-of-world playlists, dressing up like the Maya, and apocalyptic movies, a lot of fun was had that day. And, of course, plenty of fun was had the next day as we all celebrated still being here.

Wondering What To Put In A Disaster Survival Kit?

While the world didn’t end in 2012, it never hurts to be prepared for an emergency. With the rise in natural disasters like flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and more, it’s wise to be ready for the unexpected. We suggest you pre-pack a backpack with the necessities to create a survival kit. Doomsdayers commonly refer to this bag as a “go bag.”

While I may not be prepping for an apocalyptic event, I know firsthand the value of being prepared for anything. I live in a mountain state, where the weather can be treacherous. On more than one occasion, I have had to tough out some harsh conditions (massive lightning storms) while in a tent above 10,000 feet in altitude or stuck on the road (including over six hours stranded by myself in a car during an ice storm with two small children). Being prepared with snacks and survival equipment literally saved my life.

I was able to endure these extreme situations because I was educated and prepared beforehand. I keep extra shoes, gloves, jackets, blankets, flashlights, batteries, a solar-powered cellphone charger, snacks, and water in my car at all times. Along with supplies, I have also educated myself on driving safety in the winter and how to be safe in severe weather in all seasons.

As we say in my area, it’s best to be prepared for anything. Reviewing these 35 Winter Weather Safety Tips can save you from a terrifying situation. You can also learn more from our guide on staying safe in a severe thunderstorm or lightning storm.

Grab ‘n Go Emergency Kit Or “Go Bag”

Ready America emergency kit.

While there are many things you could consider, the basics can be found in this Grab ‘n Go Emergency Kit that includes a backpack to carry your survival supplies and is designed to sustain two people for three days. You may also want to consider stocking up on an emergency meal kit, especially if you live in an area with natural disasters and extreme weather. These often include freeze-dried and shelf-stable foods and come in several varieties with proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

Deluxe Survival Kit

72 hour emergency survival kit backpack with contents.

A more extensive version of a go bag is this 72-hour emergency survival kit for four people. It includes a first aid kit, water, and food. Along with that, the kit has a NOAA weather radio with a power bank, siren, and flashlight. It also has emergency tents, sleeping bags, rain ponchos, and survival tools.

21 Additional Items For Your Survival Kit

While these kits will get you started, I suggest you buy one more backpack as well for each additional person in your family and fill each pack with the following:

  1. Water bottles and portable water filter
  2. Flint
  3. Space blankets
  4. High-calorie food bars
  5. Water purification system/pills
  6. Flashlight with extra lithium batteries
  7. Crank-powered radios and lights
  8. Solar powered lights
  9. Solar-powered cell phone charger
  10. Cash or travelers’ checks
  11. Swiss army knife
  12. Dust mask
  13. Nylon rope or twine
  14. Matches in a waterproof container or bag
  15. Compass
  16. Extra prescription medications
  17. Nonprescription medications like painkillers, antacids, anti-diarrhea meds, and allergy medication
  18. Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses and cleaning solution
  19. Pet food and extra water for your fur babies
  20. Personal hygiene items
  21. Sleeping bags, extra blankets, and clothing

Are You Prepared For A Disaster?

Along with having the essential items to survive a sudden disaster, it helps to be prepared ahead of time. This is especially true if you live somewhere where natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes happen. If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, you can learn more about them in our Top 19 Tornado Safety Tips.

Perhaps you live along a coast and are at risk for hurricanes. Our Hurricane Preparedness Checklist covers must-know information. These resources can help you prepare for the unexpected if you live in an area where natural disasters happen.

Any of these disasters can damage your home and property. While many of us have homeowners insurance policies, not all cover flooding damage. In many cases, you must purchase separate flood coverage. Finding this out after significant damage happens adds even more stress and financial burden. Our guide explains more about what kinds of water damage homeowner’s insurance does and doesn’t cover.

A portable water filter is another handy and life-saving tool to keep with your camping and survival gear. While exploring the great outdoors, emergencies can happen quickly. Clean drinking water is essential to survival. One of these tools can take dirty, questionable water and turn it into a life-sustaining clean liquid. Learn more about how portable water filters work in our guide.

More Mysteries To Explore

I, for one, am thrilled the world did not end in 2012 and am happy to be here with you all today. There is no end of mysterious places like Easter Island to explore. If you like secret societies, check out our guide on the secrets of the Freemasons. Or perhaps you are wondering about life on other planets or our purpose here on Earth?

Do you have a favorite conspiracy theory or Earth mystery you would like to learn more about? Let me know in the comments.

Why Trust Safe Smart Living?

Danielle is a writer, reader, researcher, and lifelong scholar. As a professional researcher, she uses her unquenching quest for knowledge to seek out, scrutinize, and explore what’s around her. Her job is to share information with others, something she has years of experience with from her former career as an educator. Danielle spends countless hours reviewing and researching valuable information to share with our readers.

Danielle DeGroot

Danielle has been a professional writer for many years, working with companies and brands all over the world. She holds a BS in Communication and Marketing from Colorado State University Global and uses her skills to help others share their voices. She has researched and covered a wide range of subjects, from eco-friendly living and burial to healthy living, technology, education, science, small business, and more. Her passion is connecting people with useful information and helping others find their voice. Prior to starting her writing career, Danielle worked in public education, where she worked to support and educate children with disabilities. She works hard to stay on top of the latest changes in safety, technology, and living, which allows her to continue researching and sharing pertinent information to better others’ lives.

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