The sun makes days, seasons, and years. The moon makes months. But who invented weeks? What makes Monday a Monday and why does it come so relentlessly every seven days? Why is Monday night sacred to football? What about “luckless Friday the 13th," “Flashback Thursday,” “Taco Tuesday,” “Payday Saturday?” and the long-forgotten “Monday is laundry day?” Why is it that days display peculiar traits, almost like faces? For instance, some describe Tuesday as like those people to whom we dread being introduced, because they have no expression of face, no clear meaning in the context of our seven-day week.
So I ponder: Why do we humans persist in sorting activity in weekly cycles? Is it our instinctual seemingly desperate need to psychologically manage time? We can’t see, touch, or taste time. Neither can we study it with a microscope or experiment with it to better understand it. Yet, we attempt to measure its non-stop passing with clocks, calendars, and our illustrious seven-day week. Try as we will to manage it, time still keeps passing—a passing of which we have no control. What’s even more mind-boggling is we can’t say exactly what happens when time passes.
But I’ve digressed. Days, months, and years all make sense as units of time—they match up, at least roughly, with the revolutions of the earth, moon, and sun. Weeks, however, are weird and clunky. They don’t align with any natural cycles, don’t fit clearly into months or years, and have no astronomical basis. They make absolutely no sense! Who’s to blame for all this lunacy? According to some, the ancient Babylonians are responsible for the seven-day calendar origin. Most of us, however, generally associate the week’s genesis with the ancient Jews and the biblical account of the Creation, according to which God labored for six days and rested on the seventh. As nonsensical as it is, the seven-day week has survived for millennia and is the global standard dominating our sense of where we stand in the flow of time.
But enter the global pandemic. Absent were the touchstones of going to work, school, or play on specific weekdays. Many of us felt unmoored not only from time but also from ourselves. Losing our handle on the week raised the specter of lost memory and lost time, and we felt distraught at no longer knowing if it was Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday.
I’ve come to the end of my pondering having reached a better understanding of and appreciation for the seven-day week timekeeping convention. It’s an important emotional construct and a means of orienting ourselves to the many working parts of our world—a governor on the chaos of so many interlocking functions and needs. The seven-day week, it seems, isn’t nonsensical at all. It’s an eternity in an idea.