whence the weekend
November 13, 2004 12:26 PM   Subscribe

From when and where does the idea of having a 'weekend' come? Who first decided that two days out of seven should be kept work-free (for most working people)?
posted by humuhumu to Society & Culture (16 answers total)
I would bet it started from Sunday being a religious day of rest and prayer, and then extended to Saturday as laws were put in place regarding the # hours worked per week (the birth of the 40 hr work week) That's just a guess, though.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2004

posted by Grod at 12:44 PM on November 13, 2004

Obviously, it came from people who didn't own their own companies. (At work, and only mildly bitter about it, right now.)
posted by SpecialK at 12:44 PM on November 13, 2004

weren't unions responsible for us getting days off?
(besides Sundays)
posted by amberglow at 12:50 PM on November 13, 2004

Funny you should ask. I'm reading about it right now....

The concept of a seven day week comes from Roman times, when farmers set aside one day to go to market. Each day was named for a planet - sun, moon, mars, mercury, jupiter, venus, saturn. (this blew me away and if you know a romance language, you'll see why.)
Saturday, or Saturn's Day, was considered bad luck and no work was done. The Christians moved the sabbath to Sunday to avoid the whole pagan thing.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:47 PM on November 13, 2004

I think you're thinking of this book: From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States. Here's a timeline from a PBS series that gives an overview of the weekend in the US. Henry Ford closed his factories on Saturdays and Sundays because he believed that he could get more productive workers if he paid them more and worked them a bit less. Plus, the infux of immigrants meant that industrialists were already coping with time-off for Jewish workers on the Saturday Sabbath along with traditional Christian Sunday days off which became rolled into union demands along with the eight-hour day. The sort of R&R weekend we think of now is a combination of easier transportation and relative affluence and the emergence of a leisure industry that offered activities and recreation to people with extra money and time.
posted by jessamyn at 1:48 PM on November 13, 2004

One of my favourite non-fiction books is all about this subject, Witold Rybczynski's Waiting for the Weekend. I recommend his other books, as well.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 1:53 PM on November 13, 2004

Seven days from Rome? Try the Jews, a lot further back. Not sure when Christians shifted sabbath to Sunday (had they not, they would have a lot more credibility in my eyes). Not sure about the two day weeked; its a lot more recent.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:34 PM on November 13, 2004

According to Daniel Boorstin, most of the ancient world settled informally on an eight day week that became seven by the third century AD.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:53 PM on November 13, 2004

I think that most scholars think that the ancient Babylonians were the first to have a seven-day week; this spread to Egypt and Judaea, and thence to the Roman Empire and thence to the rest of the Western world.

Eviatar Zerubavel's book The Seven Day Cycle: The History and Meaning of the Week is probably the best scholarly work in English on the topic. Daniel Boorstin is a smart man, but on this topic he's just pulling stuff out of his ass.

PP, a billion Christians are shuddering with the concept that they enjoy less than perfect credibility in your eyes. Don't worry, though, the Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have Saturday sabbaths, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:13 PM on November 13, 2004

Not sure when Christians shifted sabbath to Sunday

They didn't. There is no Christian sabbath. Christ didn't command anyone to not to work one day out of the week.

Sabbath is, by definition, Saturday.
posted by kindall at 7:51 PM on November 13, 2004

Heh, I remember a bumper sticker I saw once which said, "The Labor Movement -- the folks who brought you the weekend."

Aside: What kindall said. The Christians didn't move the Sabbath to Sunday; the early disciples set it as tradition to worship and break bread on the first day of the week in commemoration of the day of Christ's resurrection. The Sabbath has always been Saturday, though in the New Testament context, the concept of a Sabbath was meant to be a pointer to a future time of rest for the people of God. End tangent. Sorry.
posted by brownpau at 9:26 PM on November 13, 2004

cunninglinguist, our days are just named for the german/scandinavian gods or planets - moon-day, tiw (god of war)'s day, woden (chief of gods)'s day, thor's day, freya-day (goddess of love), and saturn (the old god slain by his sons)-day.

I looked into that after thinking, thursday, that sounds like thor's day... and then I made a weekly datebook out of it 'cause i thought it was so cool.
posted by mdn at 2:04 PM on November 14, 2004

cunninglinguist, our days are just named for the german/scandinavian gods or planets

He was blown away by the names for these days in romance languages, which are obviously named for "planets" once you realize the connection.
posted by websavvy at 7:50 PM on November 14, 2004

planets are named for the roman gods.
posted by mdn at 9:54 AM on November 15, 2004

well, except uranus, which was named for one of the oldest greek gods, but also the greek word for world or universe (ouranos). (Uranus and Gaia gave birth to the titans, who were then destroyed by their sons, zeus (jupiter), hades (pluto), and poseidon (neptune).)

I tried to find a site that said what old german, english, or scandinavian people called the planets before being romanized, but to no avail - maybe only the roman world kept track of the 7 visible celestial objects.
posted by mdn at 10:11 AM on November 15, 2004

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