Alexandre Cherman

The first day of the week

I’m writing today from an unusual place in time, and it prompts me to take a short break on our series about the origins of our calendar and write about something else. We will be back to our regular programming next week…

Today, my aforementioned “place in time”, is Friday, Nov. 21st (2014, if you really must keep track). Yesterday, Nov. 20th, was “Black Awareness Day” (a poor translation to “Dia da Consciência Negra”). It is a local holiday in a lot of places (Rio is one of them).

Tomorrow, Nov. 22nd, is Saturday, the first day of the weekend. And that is what makes today unusual. It is what we call, literally, a “hanged day” (as in “hanged man”). It is not the weekend, but not a work day either… unusual.

And thinking about the weekend led me to revisit an old (and still open) question: what is the first day of the week?

In Portuguese, the answer might be obvious… We do use the hebdomary system, so Monday is called “segunda-feira”, or “second day”. It is pretty obvious that the day before that should be the first day, right?

Not so fast!

I just wrote, four paragraphs ago, that Saturday is the first day of the weekend. That surely makes Sunday the second (and, sadly, the last) day of the weekend. Isn’t it obvious that the last day of the weekend (emphasis on the “end” part of weekend) is the last (and not the first) day of the week?

Back to my native Portuguese, Sunday is called “domingo”, which comes from the Latin word “domini”, meaning “from the Lord”. Taking the Bible literally, this is the day when God rested. The seventh. The last.

The jury is still open. In your opinion, which is the first day of the week? Sunday or Monday? ■