The way you learn to count time when you are young is the way that sticks with you.
I left Brazil when I was twelve, fluent in both languages, using English at home. English was the language I thought in, but I had gone to Brazilian schools, so all the lists and litanies of my life, including the memorized lists for time, were in Portuguese. To this day, if I’m trying to remember if May is the fourth or fifth month, I subconsciously start counting my fingers as I list in my head janeiro, fevereiro, março, abril, maio. Fifth month.
I love the days of the week in Portuguese. Their beauty is that they are not just a list, but are part of the cycle of time. They are named as if they were part of how people actually keep track of their year. This post is not a call to action to change the secular calendar. But it will urge you to consider making the/a liturgical calendar a part of your life. Time ought to be counted in a human way. Our watches are already inhuman, full of artificial concepts like “Daylight Savings Time” and “midnight”.
As has been noted by many, Christian time is a line that is going somewhere. This stands in contrast to pagan ways of tracking time, which are circular and endless. Still, within the linear progression of Christian time are the natural circles of creation, the year in its farming and liturgical seasons, the weeks within the procession of Sundays.
In English our day names mean nothing to us. And even if we know that they are all named for pagan gods or forces, they are not part of a cycle, they have no part in a liturgy.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. (Or, heaven forbid, “Monday, Tuesday…”)
The French day names begin to head in a better direction. Etymologically, nearly every day in the French week is also nearly completely pagan, but with a less Nordic feel. Lundi for the moon day, mardi for Mars’ day, mercredi for Mercury, jeudi for Jove, vendredi for Venus, samedi for Saturn. But Sunday become dimanche, the Day of the Lord (1). Thus in French the first day of the week is a Christian day, sanctifying, one presumes, the rest of the week.
Spanish improves upon this a bit. Beginning again with the profane days, we have lunes for the moon, martes for Mars, miercoles for Mercury, jueves for Jove, viernes for Venus. So far, so the same. But now we get an entire weekend, perhaps because of the long history of Jews in Spain for so many centuries. We have sabado for Sabbath, and domingo for Lord’s Day. It’s a whole religious weekend! And for Christians, this week begins with the new covenant of Jesus, and ends with a reminder of the old covenant.
Portuguese is where weekday naming reaches its Christian apex (I admit, this is only out of the languages I know, which are at this point exhausted). The week is bracketed, as it is in Spanish, by domingo and sabado. But in between are segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, and sexta-feira. A little repetitive, no? The names mean simply Second Fair (or Market), Third Fair, Fourth Fair, Fifth Fair, and Sixth Fair. From Wikipedia:
A feria (Latin for “free day”) was a day on which the people, especially the slaves, were not obliged to work… In ancient Rome the feriae publicae, legal holidays, were either stativae (“fixed,” that is, recurring regularly, such as the Saturnalia), conceptivae (movable), or imperativae (appointed for special occasions).
When Christianity spread, on the feriae (feasts) instituted for worship by the Church, the faithful were obliged to attend Mass; such assemblies gradually led, for reasons both of necessity and convenience, to mercantile enterprise and market gatherings which the Germans call Messen, and the English fairs. They were fixed on saints’ days (e.g. St Bartholomew Fair in London, St Germanus’s fair, St Wenn’s fair, etc.).
In the Roman Rite liturgy, the term feria is used to denote days of the week other than Sunday and Saturday.
Find here a list of fifteen European languages for which Monday is the day of the moon. Like the names of rivers and mountains, the names of days change very slowly, if at all, staying the same through changes in people, race, religion. The names the Western nations and peoples learned in their youths were the names that stayed with them, even when they themselves changed.
Look at the progression mapped out by the quote above. We start with rare “free days” for slaves. These become occasional Christian “feasts”, because the chains of slavery have been thrown off. Finally, every day that’s not Sunday or Old Sabbath is officially named a feast day. Sure, it also means market day. That just emphasizes that life is a feast. We need to buy the pork and potatoes and greens and ale that it takes to make every day a feast.
No pagan gods. No Daylight Savings. Just counting Christian time from and to Sundays.
You and I learned as kids to count time in the fashion of the pagans, and to the tune of modern humanistic society. But we are not pagans, and we are not humanists. We are Christians. For us it is too late to think of April as being in Eastertide first and being April second. But it’s not too late for our kids.
“What day is it, daddy?”
“Today is Second Day, my son. God remade the world on First Day, and on Seventh Day we’ll watch the sun set and know that when it rises, it will be First Day, and Easter Morning, all over again.”
Every week. Find a way to rename your time, if you can. Find a way to live out your time from Sunday to Sunday.