Blue Mondays and Good Fridays: Why Are They So? by Marjorie Dorfman
Have you ever thought about where and how the days of our week originated? No, well, maybe you should because that is the topic currently up for discussion. Pay attention there may be a quiz afterwards.
You may think that knowing the days of the week is as easy as ABC, despite the fact that it should go something like SMTWTF and S, but no matter how easy you might think it is, the days of the week all have their roots in ancient history and can get pretty complicated. Lets tackle them first collectively and then one a time, for probably you and surely I were absent on "the day they did that."
As far as the truth about how the seven-day week really began, the only think known for certain is that no one knows for certain. The first pages of the Bible tell how God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. (You would think He (or She) would have needed more time than that to recover.) In any case, this seventh day became the Jewish day of rest, Saturday the Sabbath. The modern world revolves around this arrangement as far as global business, media schedules, television and banking are concerned.
Other places suggested as the origin of the seven-day week include: Rome, Babylonia, Egypt and Persia. Many in the sort of know claim that the seven-day week was established in the days of the late Roman Empire and furthered by the Christian Church to establish historical continuity. Seven days may also have been selected because its length approximates one moon phase. The truth is anyones guess, so take your pick as to which story you prefer.
In English, most of the days of the week come from the names of Germanic deities, such as Wodan (Wednesday) and Thor (Thursday). The Germanic languages, including English, substitute Nordic gods with similar characteristics for many of the Roman gods, although the Nordic gods were never associated with the planets. Sunday and Monday are named directly from the Sun and Moon and Saturday is the only day of the week to retain its Roman origins in English; having been named after the Roman god (Saturn).
Sunday was the first day of the astrological week, the Hebrew week and the Ecclesiastical Latin week of the first millennium. In the United States and other English-speaking countries, Sunday still begins the week. The name comes from the Old English, sunnandaag, meaning Day of the Sun, which is a translation of the Latin phrase, Dies Solis. The actual word, Sunday comes from the German word, Sonntag, which was more than likely a Scandinavian word before it developed its checkered past.
The word has no religious connotations, but does concern the importance ancient religions placed on the power of the almighty sun. The ancient Greeks considered it the source of all life and when the Romans adopted the seven-day week, they made the sun the very first day (Dies Solis), to emphasize their undying respect for the omnipotent life force.
Monday derives from the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic tongue for the word, moon, Monandaeg. Even before the hit song back in the 1950s by Fats Domino, "Blue Monday," this day was often referred to as blue. Once again, why this is so can be argued from many different standpoints. One durable theory has to do with the fact that Monday (before the advent of the washing machine, that is) was usually set aside for washing, and a blue dye was frequently used to keep clothes from yellowing. Blue has also come to mean sad, and since Monday marks the usual return to work after a week-end off, it could be attributed to this depressing but inevitable occurrence.
The word Tuesday is derived from Tyr or Tiw, the Norse God of War, and in Old English Tiwesdaeg, means Tyrs Day. The Anglo-Saxons invaded England in the 6th century and these Germanic tribes established a culture that had been heavily influenced by Rome. Tuesday had already been named for the Roman God of War, Martius, but now the Norse God of War reigned supreme of the two influences.
Wednesday derives from the Old English word, Wodnesdaeg, meaning the day of the Germanic god, Woden, also known as Odin, the highest god in Norse mythology and a prominent Anglo-Saxon god until about the seventh century. It is based on the Latin Dies Mercurii aka Day of Mercury. The connection between Odin and Mercury lies in the fact that they were both considered the leaders of souls in their respective mythologies and both are also associated with poetic and musical inspiration. In German, the day is known as mittwoch (mid week).
Thursday comes from the Old English Punresdaeg, meaning the day of Punor, commonly known as Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. The invading tribes of the Roman Empire supplanted Jupiter or Jove with Thor. Thus came the moniker, Thorsdaeg that translates into English as Thursday. The most famous Thursday holiday in America is of course Thanksgiving, and although it has been celebrated since 1621, it was not made an official holiday until 1863 when President Lincoln recommended the feast day to Congress. Although a celebration of bountiful harvests, it was much more related to two Union victories during the Civil War, Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
As far as Friday (good and otherwise) goes, the name derives from the Old English, Frigdaeg, meaning the day of the Frige who was the Germanic goddess of beauty. She is, most conveniently, a later incarnation of the Norse goddess, Frigg. In Latin, this coincides with Day of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty and sex.
As early as the first century, the Church set aside every Friday as a special day of prayer and fasting. It would take the passing of another three centuries before the Church began observing the Friday before Easter as the day associated with the crucifixion of Christ. First known as Holy or Great Friday by the Greek Church, the name Good Friday was adopted around the sixth or seventh century.
There are two possible origins for the name Good Friday and no one knows for sure which one represents the true unfolding of events. One theory is that it comes from the Gallican Church (modern day France and Germany) and from the words Gute Freitag, which is Germanic and means "good" or "holy" Friday. The second possibility is the variation on the name, Gods Friday, where the word "good" replaced the word, "God," which was considered too holy a word for commoners to utter.
Saturday remains the only day in the week to retain its Roman origin. It derives from the Roman god, Saturn, father of Zeus and who knows who else. In Latin, it was Dies Saturni, Day of Saturn.
And there you have it, the weeks ABCs as SMTWTFS. If you are still confused, consult the Yellow Pages for more answers. You wont find them, but you might feel that you can at least stay in touch with others who cant seem to find them either.
The ancient Romans changed more than the map of the world when they conquered so much of it; they altered the way historical time itself is marked and understood. In a style that is lucid, fluent, and graceful, the author investigates the pertinent systems, including the Roman calendar (which is still our calendar) and its near perfect method of capturing the progress of natural time. If you are at all interested how our calendar was invented, you'll like Caesar's Calendar.
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