What is the first day of the week? Any Spaniard will unhesitatingly answer Monday. This is what our wall calendars suggest by placing this day at the left end of the metaphorical boulevard—time is itself a metaphor—of the week, and traditionally highlighting it with red ink in recognition of its sacred nature in Christian tradition. It is also indisputable that the term weekend, which we literally translated into fin de semana, packs Saturday and Sunday together into a double-day gift—by the way, my students are always surprised to learn that weekends as such have not always existed just like mountains or tax collectors, but were invented by the bourgeois when they came to have enough money to fall ill with spleen. There is still further evidence in support of Monday. When someone has a tendency to block the free transit of people around the house by forgetting their body in the most inconvenient spots, in Spanish we have this saying that goes, ‘You’re always in the middle, just like Thursdays!’ Which confirms beyond all reasonable doubt that weeks start on Monday. Maybe not a groovy kind of day to begin anything, but hey, Friday is around the corner, or so they say.
It is thus surprising to find that our closest neighbors—the proud winners of the latest UEFA European Championship and, more importantly, the latest Eurovision Song Contest—should refer to Monday as segunda feira ‘second day’. Sunday would thus arguably be the primeira ‘first’ one—even if the Portuguese, for reasons only they could explain, do not call it that way but domingo, just like we do. And if we were to extend the inquiry to farther places and cultures, we’d find that in many of them Sunday is reckoned as the beginning of the week, presumably for the same reasons that lead us to print it in red. Again, day names can be quite revealing—in German, Wednesday is called Mittwoch, literally ‘middle of the week’. I guess Germans insult their annoying relatives and friends by comparing them to Wednesdays rather than Thursdays. The designation might also be assumed to allude to the working week, but this is unlikely if we take another look at calendars.
Indeed, in those other traditions Sundays will usually be placed on the left side. This, together with the fact that they rarely use red for emphasis, has made me incur in a few misunderstandings when looking up a certain date on German and North American calendars without caring to remember about cultural differences—not quite unlike those times when I pressed the B button in elevators, only to find myself at the basement instead of the bajo, i.e. ‘ground floor’. Even in Japan, where Monday is curiously dedicated to the moon (getsuyôbi) and Sunday to the sun (nichiyôbi)—there is obviously a historical explanation—precedence is granted to the latter day. Well, we can concede this system has the advantage that the week will both begin and end with a free day, provided the Japanese are allowed to take two consecutive days off, which looks like a bit too much.
So who is right? The discrepancy could only be solved if it were posible to go back to the first week ever and see where it started from. We know it took God six days to create everything, and then He rested on the seventh one and made this day holy (Genesis 2: 2-3). Unfortunately, the Bible does not specify whether this seventh day was a Saturday or a Sunday—but, being a Jewish text, it most likely refers to Sabbath. Not that I mean to balance forces with bizarre arguments, but well, would it make any sense to undertake such a colossal task as the creation of the universe on a Sunday? Besides, on what day are all those diets supposedly going to be started?