Thousands of tourists are flocking to Mexico's Yucatan peninsula to be part of the so-called "Mayan Apocalypse" near the sites of the ancient Mayan cities of Tulum and Coba.
The local convention centre in Merida was crowded with tourists dressed mostly in white, and vendors offering books, souvenirs and white clothing as well as red and yellow bandanas.
On December 21, a major cycle in the 5,125-year-old Mayan Long Count calendar, a period known as the 13th Baktun, ends.
A chorus of books and films have tried to link the Mayan calendar to rumours of impending disasters.
Some have even taken this to mean the end of the world.
For local archaeologists and Mayan experts this is just a marketing strategy, as the Mayans never mentioned 2012 as the end of the world.
But this hasn't discouraged tourists and new agers from travelling to Merida to be part of the excitement surrounding the 'Mayan New Era'.
At the parking lot of the Merida convention centre a group of about 60 tourists, mostly from France, gathered for the lighting ceremony of the 'sacred fire'.
The ceremony kicked off a five-day gathering known as the 'Spiritual Planetary Summit 2012' which will include workshops, conferences, concerts, and tours to the Mayan ruins.
Under the scorching sun people danced, clapped and cheered as a group of 'saumeros' (ritual cleansers) lit a bonfire led by an elderly man known as the 'guardian of the sacred fire', and a Quechua Indian.
Volunteers will take turns watching the bonfire and keeping the fire from extinguishing.
Violeta Simarro, a secretary from Perpignan, France, said she hoped December 21st would bring love and peace to the world.
"There are already events in the world (to worry about), climate and things like that, but for me, I don't have any. Everything is going to continue and is going to evolve in another dimension."
Gabriel Lemus, who led the ceremony, said people should not fear the end of the world because this new era, or 'new sun' as he called it, will mean a new beginning for humanity.
"This new era will bring the sunrise, the new cosmic spring, the human dawn in which all of us will recover all the qualities we have lost," said Lemus.
source: newshub archive