New Fire Ceremony

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New Fire Ceremony

Every 52 years
Among the ancient Aztec people of what is now Mexico, the year was divided into 18 months of 20 days each, plus a five-day "unlucky" period. There was also a ritualistic period of 260 days, which was composed of 13 months with 20 named days in each month. When one cycle was superimposed on the other, it resulted in a "century" of 52 years. Although festivals were observed each month, the most impressive and important occurred at the end of the 52-year cycle, when people feared that the world would be destroyed. It was known as the New Fire Ceremony because the old altar fire was extinguished and a new one was lit, symbolizing the new lease on life that the dawn of a new cycle represented.
Just before dusk on the day of the ceremony, all fires in the Valley of Mexico were put out. Huge crowds of people followed their priests from Mexico City to a temple several miles away on the Hill of the Star. Because the hill permitted them to view the heavens in all directions, it was here that the priests waited for a celestial sign telling them that the world would end or that a new century would begin. If the constellation known as the Pleiades passed the zenith, life would continue as it had. But if it failed to do so, the sun and stars would be changed into wild beasts who would fall to the earth and devour all the people, after which an earthquake would complete the destruction.
As soon as the heavenly signal received a favorable interpretation, burning torches were carried by runners throughout the valley to relight the fires in each house.
SOURCES:
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 713
EncyRel-1987, vol. 2, p. 27
(c)