Why Does the Week Start on Sunday?

If you’ve ever thought about your week, you’ve thought about weekends and weekdays. You probably spent a lot of that time looking forward to the weekend because you want to forget about the rest of the week. Then you probably think a little too hard about how much you look forward to 5/7ths of your week being over because you only like 2/7ths of it and it sends you into an unrecoverable existential spiral and now it’s 5AM. Anyway, weeks basically start on Monday for many people, where their first weekday is. So why do our weekends take place at both the end and beginning of the week? Why does the week start on Sunday?

First Days

For those who really hate the idea that calendars don’t start on Monday, you might feel a little vindicated by the International Organization for Standardization. The ISO is an international NGO where their entire thing is determining standards. They’re based in Geneva and work in 165 countries. One of the things they standardize is the week–in ISO provision 8601 Monday is actually the first day of the week. 

Unfortunately it’s not changing whether or not your country starts the week on Sunday. Sunday-first countries include the vast majority of the Americas, China, and Japan; where Monday-first countries include India, Australia, and most of both Eastern and Western Europe. Some countries, particularly in the Middle East, begin with Saturday. 

Given that some who observe the Christian faith go to church on Sunday, you might have had an inkling that the New Testament had something to do with Sunday being the first day of the week in some nations. The New Testament defines the first day of the week being a Christian day of worship. That happens to be Sunday, it’s why people go to church. 

So we guess if everyone started going to church on Monday, it would move?

The Workweek and Different Weekends

The structure of the “workweek” and “weekend” is often intrinsically tied to some form of religious faith. For example, Sunday is determined the “Lord’s Day” in some parts of the Christian faith. If you follow the New Testament, that makes Sunday the week’s beginning. 

The Biblical Sabbath (Shabbat) lasts from sunset on Friday to dusk on Saturday–which puts the weekend on Friday and Saturday in Israel. Thursday to Friday weekends have historically existed, particularly in nations where Saturday is the first day of the week. Thursday to Friday weekends have been phased out as countries acclimate to the far more common Friday to Saturday or Saturday to Sunday. 

Regarding the Christian Sabbath–it has consistently been considered a holiday where Christianity has been historically prominent. In the 20th century the preceding day would become taken as a holiday too. The western’s contemporary understanding of the 2 day weekend arose from 19th century industrial Britain

Many weekends are 2 days long, where the days are often determined by the nation’s predominant faith. Some countries have a single-day weekend, though they are increasingly uncommon. 

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about the weekend. In the 18th century, workers just had Sunday off as the Christian Sabbath. But non-work events that weren’t church also existed, and often usually were just slapped onto the end of the holiday–right after Sunday. This began a regular custom of not going to work on Monday either and was so common that keeping Monday off came to be known as “keeping Saint Monday.” Religious groups didn’t much like having revelry right after the Sabbath; they felt it dishonored the Sabbath. So shops began closing on Saturday afternoon instead. 

The American Weekend

Most people reading this are probably American, and the basis of the question “why does the week start on Sunday” is localized partially to America. So is America’s rationale for the Saturday-Sunday weekend and Sunday week-start secular?

Well, probably not.

The 5 day workweek started in 1908 so Jewish workers wouldn’t have to work on Saturday. The 5 day workweek wouldn’t be standardized until 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act

Here’s a Sunday crossword to fit that Sunday mood. Even though you’re probably not reading this on a Sunday.