Before getting into what we know from the Classic period (A.D. 200 - 900) Maya, I just want to say that there are hundreds of thousands of Maya people living today. Their civilization never disappeared or anything, the political apparati that functioned during the Classic period just ceased to exist, like the Soviet Union or Roman Empire.
Second, the term Maya originally referred to an geographic area roughly equivalent to the Yucatan Peninsula, including the Mexican states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan, as well as the central American countries of Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. The people living in this area are culturally related to one another through language and other traits they share, but they have never been organized into a single political unit or empire. Even in the Classic period, there were only autonomous city-states like the Greek Polis of Classical Greece. (Athens and Sparta shared much culture, but were politically distinct entities)
The people in this region, although they are all "Maya", speak more than 30 mutually unintelligible languages today, and probably spoke more during the classic period.
Today, there are several cultural anthropologists who work in these communities, and have published many works to try to bring an understanding of who the Maya people are to outsiders. These ethnographers cover everything from traditional Maya social organization (see Evan Vogt's extensive work on the community of Zinacantan or Ruth Bunzel's work in Chichicastenango) to the Zapatista rebellion (See various works written by George Collier).
Ethnographers like Judy Maxwell (http://tulane.edu/liberal-arts/blogs/maxwell.cfm) and Barbara and Dennis Tedlock (See TIME AND THE HIGHLAN MAYA) have worked with modern Maya calendar experts, known as Ah Kin or day keepers. Guess what? Those Maya people don't understand why westerners are making such a fuss about the Long Count turnover.
Now I am not a Maya person, but from the ethnographic accounts and my own interaction with Maya people, it seems they view it as sort of a big New Year celebration. They don't prophesize about the end of the world, they talk about things like:
Maybe people will be nicer to one another in the new era
Maybe my crops will grow healthy
You see, these things are more like New Year's resolutions than they are dire predictions.
OK, just food for thought. I do recommend reading some of the references I wrote about above. I also recommend going to Chiapas or Guatemala and visiting tradition Maya communities today. Travel to San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas and stay at the Na Balom hotel. From there travel out to Chamula and Zinacantan and meet some Maya people yourself, they are very warm and friendly.
Thanks for reading. The next post will be about the actual Maya long count calendar, how it works, and what the ancient Maya wrote about it (not much) Saty tuned.
This is a picture of my wife and I dressed up in the traditional garb of Chamula in Chiapas.