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Blow Out the Candles

The notion that our world will end, vanish - finito! - two Fridays from now is something I take very personally. For, like Thomas Becket, Jane Fonda, and Frank Zappa, I was born on Dec. 21.

The notion that our world will end, vanish - finito! - two Fridays from now is something I take very personally. For, like Thomas Becket, Jane Fonda, and Frank Zappa, I was born on Dec. 21.

Therefore, my family reminds me, there's no need for birthday presents. Or dinner reservations.

On the plus side, if it's true, I will not age any further.

Diet and exercise, moderation and common sense become meaningless. Fiscal cliff? Ha! It's all downhill.

Local bonus: Scratch the rest of the Eagles' season.

There are several advantages to a winter-solstice birthday. The night is not merely long; it's the longest. And given the winter holidays, folks are prone to merriment, finery, excess, and toasts in your honor.

Then along comes this prediction that the end is nigh on the one day when even my teenage offspring must be nice. My big day didn't just get bigger - it blew up. We wish you a scary solstice!

The doomsday prophecy is based on the Mayans' 5,125-year Long Count calendar, which is said to come to a screeching, cataclysmic halt on you-know-when. At what hour exactly, no one's sure. You don't RSVP for Armageddon.

It seems patently unfair that our planet might combust after we survived a recession, a superstorm, a numbing $2 billion presidential campaign - featuring countless debates, Newt Gingrich, and Ricks Perry and Santorum - and an entire year without a single George Clooney movie.

But the bad news has been a boon for business. There are big bucks in this big bust. Doomsday fetes are supplanting regularly scheduled holiday cheer. Everyone's appropriating my day, though not necessarily in a good way.

Because annihilation is scheduled for a Friday, barkeeps are ecstatic: Their patrons might be less concerned about hangovers and regrets if there's no morning after. Doomsday mix tapes proliferate, featuring numbers such as "Gimme Shelter," "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," and "The End." Basically, half of the Doors' catalog.

Enough books have been published on the subject, many of dubious worth, to render readers sleepless until the end of time - and beyond. Hedging its bets, the disaster flick 2012, directed by apocalypse auteur Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) was released three years ago.

The National Catastrophic - correction: Geographic - Channel relished the potential debacle with pornographic zeal, hosting not just one but three specials last week. It's Doomapalooza, featuring, as one wag put it, "mankind roasting on an open fire."

End-of-the-world college courses have proliferated this semester. The final for one Penn State entry is scheduled for Apocalypse Eve (another potential holiday), so students still have to study.

The Penn Museum, now celebrating its 125th anniversary, hosts the exhibit "Maya 2012: Lords of Time," which illuminates the wonders of the ancient civilization and its calendar, while repeatedly debunking the prophecy that there are only a few days left before the apocalypse. Optimistically, the show closes Jan. 13. The gift shop is selling Mayan Christmas ornaments, non-Mayan margarita glasses, and T-shirts reading "I'm going to party like it's," the Long Count's final day.

Already given to mysticism and despair, some Russians have taken to "collective mass psychosis," the New York Times reports, hoarding candles, soap, and vodka. One member of the country's parliament said: "You cannot endlessly speak about the end of the world, and I say this as a doctor. Everyone has a different nervous system."

True. Americans were already nervous enough given the economy, Sandy, and that fiscal cliff. Did we need this too? All this worry is most likely contributing to an uptick in sales of antianxiety medication, as well as its alcoholic and less-legal variants.

I'm sorry to report that there is a second doomsday scenario featuring the Nibiru cataclysm, which sounds like a death metal band or sushi gone very wrong. This theory is being promoted by a Wisconsin woman named Nancy Lieder, who claims that aliens from Zeta Reticuli implanted stuff in her brain telling her something will occur on Dec. 21 and it will not be good. Yet people believe her.

Just as the Russian government had to tell those citizens to stop worrying and hoarding candles, no less a government authority than NASA informs anxious Americans: "The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than four billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012."

See? Comforting news! Despite wars, plagues, pestilence, and Uggs, our planet is getting along just fine!

Still, everyone wants in on the end. Even the debunking Penn Museum will host a Final Countdown party "to ring in the end of the world." The soiree is scheduled for (when else?) Dec. 21, even though - hold on to your doomsday clock - the exhibit disputes whether that date really marks the end of the Long Count.

"There's contradictory information that gives us a little wiggle room," said Simon Martin, the show's cocurator. "It's just that people found it more appealing that it fall on the solstice. But professional Mayanists use the 23d."

Know what this means? Presents! Cake! Two more days!