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The Mexica (Aztec) monthly festival of Ochpaniztli, Codex Borbonicus pl. 30

How do Aztec monthly festivals fit into our calendar?

This relates to the thorny issue of ‘correlation’. We’re not expert enough to tackle this here; suffice to say that for a century or more historians and scholars generally have sweated over this question. The equivalent dates are given in Book 2 of Sahagún’s Florentine Codex (‘The Ceremonies’), but then came the complication of the ten-day ‘drift’ and the need to adjust the old European Julian calendar to the modern Gregorian one (in 1582). And then there’s the question of which was the ‘first’ festival in the Mexica year, and how to deal with some 13 different (regional) calendric systems in use in Central Mexico when the Spanish invaded... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

The 18 x 20-day festival periods in the Xihuitl, with the 5 Nemontemi indicated; Veytia Calendar Wheel no. 5
The 18 x 20-day festival periods in the Xihuitl, with the 5 Nemontemi indicated; Veytia Calendar Wheel no. 5 (Click on image to enlarge)

We’ve taken data from three modern-day scholarly sources (see below) in order to compile here what is only a ROUGH guide.
World expert Johanna Broda gives us this introduction to the festivals cycle:-
Here we are dealing with the solar year of 365 days (xihuitl), which consisted of eighteen months of twenty days and five extra days (nemontemi). During each month, a main festival (ilhuitl) was celebrated; its name coincided with the name of the month. These festivals generally took place on the last day of the month, but there were also minor celebrations or preparatory rites that began twenty, forty or eighty days before the main festival. In other cases, the rites continued for several days, sometimes twenty or forty days, after the feast. In this way, in the manner of a fugue, a web of ceremonies was created which spanned the whole year and led from one celebration to the next. During the five extra days, the nemontemi, the Aztec refrained from all activities, and no religious ceremonies were performed.

A well-known scene from the festival of Xocotl huetzi; Codex Borbonicus, fol. 28
A well-known scene from the festival of Xocotl huetzi; Codex Borbonicus, fol. 28  (Click on image to enlarge)

Approximate START dates of the 18 x 20-day festival months (each called ilhuitl in Nahuatl and veintena in Spanish):-

• Atlacahualo: 10-14 February
• Tlacaxipehualiztli: 2-6 March
• Tozoztontli: 24-28 March
• Huey tozoztli: 15-17 April
• Toxcatl: 3-7 May
• Etzalcualiztli: 23-27 May
• Tecuilhuitontli: 12-16 June
• Huey tecuilhuitl: 2-6 July
• Tlaxochimaco: 22-26 July
• Xocotl huetzi (see pic, right): 11-15 August
• Ochpaniztli (see main pic): 31 August-4 September
• Teotleco: 20-24 September
• Tepeilhuitl: 10-14 October
• Quecholli: 30 October-3 November
• Panquetzaliztli: 19-23 November
• Atemoztli: 9-13 December
• Tititl: 29 December-2 January
• Izcalli: 18-22 January.

NOTES:-
• We’ve omitted some of the alternative names of festivals, for clarity
• Brotherston gives the earlier for each start date, Broda in the middle, and Aguilar-Moreno the later for each
• The section on the Ochpaniztli festival, given prominence in the Codex Borbonicus (main picture above) has been described by Esther Pasztory (Aztec Art, 1983) in these terms: ‘These pages... offer the most colourful picture of how spectacular the monthly festivals must have been’.
Sources:-
• Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel: Handbook to Life in the Aztec World, Facts on File, New York, 2006
• Broda, Johanna: ‘Festivals and Festival Cycles’ in Carrasco, David (Editor in Chief) The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, vol. 1, OUP, 2001
• Brotherston, Gordon: Feather Crown: The Eighteen Feasts of the Mexica Year, British Museum Research Publication no. 154, 2005.

Image sources:-
• images from the Codex Borbonicus (original in the Bibliotheque de l’Assembée Nationale, Paris) scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1974
• Image from the Veytia calendar wheel scanned from our own copy of Los Calendarios Mexicanos by Mariano Fernández Echeverría y Veitia, Museo Nacional de México, Mexico City, 1907.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Dec 08th 2020

Learn more about the veintenas (1)

Learn more about the veintenas (2)

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Mexicolore replies: We should point out that it was in response to a question sent in by Suzi that we prepared this short guide. She originally wrote:-
’Hi. I have been having trouble finding calendar dates for the Aztec festivals / months that are worked out to our calendar system. There’s lots of conflicting information regarding our calendar dates and it’s very confusing which is correct. i’d like to be able to celebrate the festivals on the true dates.’