This time of year – that bit between the Christmas and New Year celebrations – always reminds me of the nemontemi “empty days” of the Aztecs.
The Aztecs of ancient Mexico were very attached to their surprisingly accurate calendar, based on the solar year. It was made up of 18 months of 20 days, also split into five-day weeks.
But to round it up to the necessary 365 days it takes the Earth to make a full circuit of the sun, five “intercalendary” days were added at the end of the year, which would fall around February 8 to 12 in our calendar.
This was an ominous and unlucky time, marked by fasting and the complete absence of the usual rituals and ceremonies linked to the agricultural year.
These were useless days, days out of kilter with normal life, days of chaos, days of the year’s death.
The days between Christmas and New Year are also pretty useless days – all the familiar TV schedules have gone to pot – and I always have a slightly superstitious fear that the next year won’t arrive. This always passes around the middle of the day on our UK New Year’s Eve, when Australia has safely made the transition into the New Year, making our own midnight celebrations a mere formality, we hope.
Are there other similarities between the nemontemi days and the Christmas/New Year week? The Aztecs considered this a time to reflect and contemplate rather than to interact with others. They stayed near their homes, conflict of any kind was avoided and everyone talked in whispers.
Ah yes, like the lull between the family arguments we usually have at Christmas and New Year. But as for staying close to home? It strikes me an awful lot of unnecessary travel to get to the parents’ home takes place during the festive season these days.
During the Aztecs’ nemontemi days no fires burned and no cooking took place. Tortillas were prepared in advance and eaten only once in a day.
Um, maybe that’s a bit like eating up all the food we have overstocked with for Christmas, or on the other hand perhaps it’s more like making a resolution to diet in the New Year.
OK, so the analogy isn’t that good, but as I always take a break from work for that last week of the year, I for one do use it as a time for catching up with myself and I always feel relieved when the sun rises safely on January 1…