5 days rather than the true tropical year of 3 6 5

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5 days (rather than the true tropical year of 3 6 5% days), consisting of eighteen months of 20 days each, plus 5 extra nameless days on which it was extremely unlucky to be born. Although the xihuitl (365-day year) must always have run ahead of the true year, the monthly ceremonies, which took place on a vast scale in capital cities like Tenochtitlan, were closely related to the agricultural cycle and to the alternation of dry and wet seasons. From the terse accounts in the known sources there is no way to re-create the drama and magnificence of these festivals, with their communal dances, music, costumes, and sacrifices. It is clear that great celebrations, such as the springtime feasts in honor of the flayed god, Xipe Totec, must have involved tens of thousands of participants in the streets and plazas of the Aztec capital. As in the rest of Mesoamerica, the xihuitl permutated with the tonalpohualli to produce a calendar round of fifty-two years." Each of these years was named for a particular day in the tonalpohualli, and only four of the twenty day signs-Reed, Flint, House, and Rabbit- could be "year bearers." Unlike the Maya, the Aztecs lacked an unbroken day-to-day count from a single point in the past, so that all of their history and mythology was embedded in this recurrent fifty-two-year calendar, leading to much confusion among modern historians trying to deal with the Aztec past: we are told in which year an event occurred, but not in which calendar round it fell. As the late Jacques Sou srelle has observed, "At bottom the ancient Mexicans had no real confid~nce in the future,"}2and this a~as nowhere so manifest as in the ceremonies mark- ing the close of a calendar round (always in a year 2 Reed, the sign of Tezcatlipoca). when a symbolic bundle of reeds representing the old years would be buried like a dead mall. All the fires throughout the empire were extinguished, and the fire priests gathered on the Hill of the Star to watch if the Pleiades crossed the zenith. If they did, the universe would continue for another calendar round; the new fire would be kindled in the breast of a slain captive, and the smoldering embers carried out into the world. The Aztecs shared the color-direction concept with most other Mesoamerican groups and with many North American tribes. Each of the four directions had a color (among the Aztecs, east was white; north, the direction of death, was black; west was red; and south blue). There were also a host of other associations. Thus each cardinal point had a certain kind of tree, on the top of which perched a specified bird. The sur- face of the earth had a fifth" direction;' the center, the conceptual location of the three- stoned hearth in every woman's household and the domain of Huehueteotl, the old fire god.

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