Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Wednesday's child is full of woe.

I happen to be a Wednesday's child, though not very full of woe. Happy exactly 1901st birthday to me (counting by weeks).

The other day I was discussing how sometimes it seems like you need more days of the week to get everything done. The person I was talking to said he could use an eight day week. After a rousing chorus of 8 Days a Week I grew concerned about the 7 day week. How long has it been around? Has it continued uninterrupted? What if it someone forgot to count during all of those ups and downs of civilizations? Have we lost our place?

My Monday malaise could be misplaced because the counting got thrown off thousands of years ago. What if all those Sundays at church were a off by a day, and I could have been out doing something different, and what about what about all the church I missed because I didn't know it was really Sunday? TGIF could really be TGIS (or TGIS or TGIT or TGIT).

The net of a thousand lies and plagiarisms had the answer for me. As I researched I noticed websites copying verbatim from each other without reference (scandalous) so I will make my best attempt to reference the correct one. Wikipedia references this article - Falk, Michael (1999). "Astronomical Names for the Days of the Week", Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 93, p.122. 1999.- which seems to be the one that the other websites have used though not all have attributed correctly (or at all).

This website claims the chain is unbroken from Moses time (1400 BC) while the Falk paper says there is no record of when the seven day cycle became continuous but he proposes that the arrival of the Jews in Babylon around 600 BC was an important contributing event. The Babylonians already had a seven day week with extra festival days every so often but the arrival of the Jews and their emphasis on the Sabbath cemented the cycle. The days of the week are either astronomically or numerically named in the different languages of the world. The Jews would have kept the weekly cycle continuous through their troubles until they pass it on to the Romans around 1AD.

There are others as concerned as I am about maintaining the chain. When the English finally switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian in 1752, Sept 14 followed Sept 2 but Thursday followed Wednesday to preserve the sequence. This is really not surprising because the rest of the (Catholic) world had switched to the Gregorian calendar already and the next day was going to be Thursday Sept 14th no matter what the English did.

This wasn't important when Julius Caesar reformed the calendar (hence the Julian calendar) since the Romans hadn't adopted the seven day week from their neighbors yet. By the time Christianity comes around, the continuous chain of seven day weeks is in place, and eventually, around 300AD, it is so familiar that Constantine declares Sunday a day of rest for the whole empire. The Christian monks would not let the count slip through the dark ages after the fall of Rome, lest we lose track of Sunday and feast days. The torch is passed during the Renaissance and we then reach modern times when almost the whole world has adopted the seven day week even cultures which did not initially use it.

Every modern attempt to reform the week has met with failure.

So all things considered the chain is unbroken and I think we can safely say that today has been today (Wednesday or humpday) for about 2600 years and maybe even for 3400 years.

No comments: