The word “weekend,” which started life as the grammatically correct “week-end,” lost its hyphen somewhere along the way, ceasing to be merely the end of the week and acquiring, instead, an autonomous and sovereign existence.
From Waiting For The Weekend by Witold Rybeczynski
In a series of tenuously joined digressions masquerading as a book-length essay on the origins and cultural meanings of the weekend, Rybeczynski presents the reader with a casually arranged bouquet of his idiosyncratic thoughts on the subject. If it’s not a floral arrangement one would enter in a contest or choose for a wedding ceremony, it is certainly one that is enjoyable and entertaining to brighten ones home (i.e., it’s a solid B+ sort of book.)
And, Waiting For The Weekend does provide a significant insight: The idea of a workweek and a weekend is so embedded in contemporary culture that it seems a reflection of the natural order of things.
Or, as Loverboy’s Working For The Weekend eloquently phrases it,
Everybody’s working for the weekend
Everybody wants a little romance
Everybody’s goin’ off the deep end
Everybody needs a second chance, oh
You want a piece of my heart
You better start from start
You wanna be in the show
Come on baby lets go
Rybeczynski provides a gentle yet valuable jolt to our unthinking acceptance of life as we know it by pointing out that the seven-day week, the five-day workweek, and the two-day weekend, unlike, say, the four seasons, was not predetermined by some celestial phenomena or a consensus of civilizations.
Instead, the weekend as an entity unto itself is the arbitrary and artifactual result of the coincidence of events as disparate as the Babylonian calendar, the influence of Christianity on the reign of Constantine, the lunar calendar developed by Muhammad, the 19th-century practice in some portions of Europe of “keeping Saint Monday,” and the 1911 Revolution in China.
The weekend was, in fact, finally given its current two-day format when the American labor movement, during a period of consolidation, needed to accommodate and garner the loyalty of their Jewish members and consequently campaigned to eliminate Saturday as a workday to allow them to observe the Sabbath. This effort became widely successful after Henry Ford championed the idea, believing that his employees would function more efficiently with two days off work and, more importantly, that a general increase in leisure time would benefit the auto industry.
Yep, the unions’ lust for power combined with the traditions of Jewish worship led to a movement, the most prominent supporter of which was a rabidly anti-union, anti-Semitic industrialist, that eventuated in the institution of The Weekend.
Note: Originally posted Aug 26, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com