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In the United States, calendars that list a week in one line are typically formatted like this:

S M T W T F S

Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the seventh. That conforms to a tradition that goes back at least to ancient Jews long before Christianity.

If I understand correctly, people in Europe now regard Monday as the first day and Sunday as the seventh. The calendars are thus formatted:

M T W T F S S

Was it during the 20th century that Europeans adopted this convention?

(Additionally, some African countries consider Saturday the first day.)

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    Now I find this: "The origin of this custom is involved in obscurity. It was not borrowed from the Egyptians, as the week of seven days closing with a day of rest was unknown to them." newadvent.org/cathen/13287b.htm – Michael Hardy Mar 12 '17 at 21:03
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    I just want to mention that saturday is the first week day not only in africa but in most arabic and islamic countries – Mr.lock Mar 12 '17 at 21:06
  • I've deleted the part of the question about a possible Egyptian origin of Saturday as the seventh day, since all I could think of as a reason for it is that I thought I might have read it in the Catholic Encyclopedia's article titled "Sabbath", but that source seems to contradict it. – Michael Hardy Mar 12 '17 at 21:13
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    AFAIK, it is to do with the secularisation of society in the late 20th century. With the decline of Christianity, coupled with multi-culturalism, the preeminence of Sunday as the most important day of the week declined, to be replaced with Monday as the first business day. When I was growing up in the UK in the 50s/60s , Sunday was still the first day of the week. – TheHonRose Mar 13 '17 at 5:49
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    @TheHonRose : Are calendars in Britain today usually formatted with Monday in the first column and Sunday in the last? – Michael Hardy Mar 13 '17 at 15:38
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+50

Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the seventh. That conforms to a tradition that goes back at least to ancient Jews long before Christianity.

It should be noted that other ways of counting and grouping days did exist concurrently to Jewish / Christian traditions. Egypt used the decan (ten days), the Roman calendar used the nundial cycle of eight days to a "week", the French Republican Calendar used ten day weeks as well (with the tenth day replacing the Sunday "as the day of rest and festivity"). The Soviet calendar was a mess, with five day weeks (with the "day off" being assigned differently to worker groups to have 80% of the work force in the factories each day), and later, six day weeks (with the last day of the week being the "day off" for everyone).

And quoting from Sunday or Monday? (which I would recommend reading in full as it showcases several, sometimes differing, views):

According to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1983), the term 'weekend', first recorded in 1878, refers to 'the period between the close of one working or business or school week and the beginning of the next'. This concept firmly places Sunday at the end of the week.

Also, Wikipedia "Workweek and weekend" states that...

The present-day concept of the relatively longer 'week-end' first arose in the industrial north of Britain in the early part of nineteenth century[1] and was originally a voluntary arrangement between factory owners and workers allowing Saturday afternoon off from 2pm in agreement that staff would be available for work sober and refreshed on Monday morning.[2] The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of the term weekend to the British magazine Notes and Queries in 1879.[8]

So precedent existed.


Mention was made in comments of the German DIN 1355 (1943) and DIN 1355-1 (1975), the former identifying the beginning of the week as "Sunday 0:00" and the latter identifying Monday as the first day of the week. This would bracket the "when" of the change, for Germany at least, as "sometime between 1943 and 1975".

  • This narrows it down somewhat, but we don't yet have a smoking gun. – Michael Hardy Nov 16 '17 at 19:36
  • @MichaelHardy: I fear if you are looking for a set date when all the people sat down and decided, "you know what, let's shuffle the weekdays around a bit", you will be searching in vain. This is something that became custom over time, some switched earlier, some later, and eventually ISO 8601 codified it. – DevSolar Nov 16 '17 at 23:10
  • I'm not looking for a decree that effected all of Europe as of a specified date, but I would think a far more specific, if lengthier, answer would be possible. – Michael Hardy Nov 17 '17 at 2:02
  • @MichaelHardy: Well, you ask about "the Europeans" as if they were a single entity. Not even all the calendar makers within one of Europe's many countries are a single entity. Can you be a bit more specific as to what you are expecting in an answer? – DevSolar Nov 17 '17 at 15:35
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  • In the 1970s the day numbering was standardized worldwide, culminating in an UN decision. The current version of the standard is ISO 8601. Some countries were more timely than others in adopting this standard.

  • In Christian interpretation the day after Sabbath (i.e. Sunday) was seen as the first day of the week (e.g. chapter 16 of the Gospel of Mark).

  • Early in the Christian era Sunday became the rest/prayer day of the week. Supposedly that was Constantine, but I didn't hunt down Latin sources. That made Monday the first workday of the week.

  • In German civil law, due dates falling on a Sunday or Saturday are shifted to the next Monday (§193 BGB). In that sense, the weekend belongs to the previous week. Not sure which other European nations have similar rules.

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    What do you mean by "the current practice"? Do you mean treating Sunday as the seventh day? I don't think anyone would dispute that Saturday is the seventh day according to religious traditions based on Genesis. – Michael Hardy Mar 13 '17 at 15:35
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    Well, except the Biblical "Sabbath" was in fact Saturday (actually Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday). But I'll agree it sort of anachronistically goes back and makes that part of the Bible make sense again to most Christians. – T.E.D. Mar 13 '17 at 15:52
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    @MichaelHardy Must there have been? Perhaps it just wasn't something anyone cared about before. – Steven Burnap Mar 13 '17 at 18:04
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    I've just down-voted this answer because of the lack of any response to my comment from "o.m." – Michael Hardy Aug 6 '17 at 15:39
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    DIN 1355 dating back to 1943, stating that weeks "begin on Sunday 0:00", so for official "ruling" in Germany at least the "when" can be bracketed with "sometime between 1943 and 1975". – DevSolar Nov 14 '17 at 22:02

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