Mondays may be denigrated by workers the world over. Despite its reputation as the “worst day of the week” for many a worker, Mondays were of much higher esteem in the past. In Middle English, it was known as monedai while Old English knew it was mōnandæg. Both mean “day of the moon,” a name filled with an aura of mystery and magic. Eventually, Monday played an unexpected part in the the tug of war over the increased control over the work week due to the industrial revolution. Obviously there’s more to Mondays than meets the eye.
First Things First
So, where did it all start? The notion of a seven-day week found its origins with the Babylonians who were modelling their calendar after that of the Sumerians around the 21st century B.C. The moon played a big role. The seven days marks the full, waning half, new and waxing half phases of the moon.
But, how about Monday? Let’s start at the beginning, when we make out entry to the world. For the most part, there’s nothing particularly dire for those who happen to be born on Monday. It’s actually quite favourable. Being ruled by the moon, as far as astrologists are concerned, it is maternal of nature, guided by qualities of kindness and family. Accordingly, those born on this day tend to be motherly, sensitive, adaptive and kind.
Many of us are familiar with the well known nursery rhyme which spoke highly of anyone fortunate to have been born on Monday. Monday’s child, if you recall, was “fair of face.” Monday is the first of four days that seem like an agreeable day on which to have been born.
Generally speaking, all is good on Monday. Many hold Monday in high regard. It’s considered a quiet and calm day, a symbol of goodness and integrity. Those born on this day are felt to be governed by Monday’s auspicious nature and tend to be gentle and kind. These individuals are often imbued with a creative spirit that enlivens their work.
Mondays are largely favourable and it’ll soon feature in the struggle for people to assert their freedom.
It’s in places such as Britain where we can more reveal the hidden charms of Monday. There, many centuries ago, people were doing relatively well, bearing in mind any limitations given more limited health practices. For instance, having a heart problem in the fifteenth century versus nowadays would likely shrink one’s lifespan. But aside from these details, our pre-industrial forebears appeared to have a lot more leisure time.
People led relatively slow-moving and relaxed lives. Most lives were governed by a dawn ’til dusk workday. And the work inbetwixt was fairly intermittent, with various meal breaks, maybe even an afternoon nap. As a part of the community, people could enjoy festivals or fairs. Time was one’s own to use as desired.
It’s apparently a myth that the coming of capitialism was the pathway to a more leisurely way of life. As we can see, centuries ago, the notion of a forty hour work week would’ve seemed appalling to most. Well, not so, only decades ago in the nineteenth century.
The reach of the Industrial Revolution was long and deep. In comparison to their work week centuries before, during the nineteenth century, people toiled for unimaginable hours. A typical work week involved 60 to 90 hours of work in a, too often, cramped and grungy conditions.
Although, whether spotless or begrimed, the idea was centred on the goal to produce as much within a twenty-four hour period as possible. The slow-paced way of life many enjoyed decades earlier was a thing of the past. Well, not entirely.
As with any change, while people may acknowledge a new and less favourable way of life, they’d also find a way to seize back an element of the old. Increasingly, amidst these shifts in their workweek, more and more began to pay their respects to the venerable Saint Monday. Journeyman shoemakers, novice mechanics, even well-to-do merchants came to acknowledge Saint Monday.
This was a day, entirely secular, that many observed. It often followed a night of revelry of some sort on Sunday night. The world may have been changing and undergoing re-structuring at the hands of industrialisation. However, in the face of these changes, Saint Monday blossomed for people as a means to maintain former work rhythms. This was a freedom that had to be regained.
The year was filled with celebrations of saints and other events. From January to December, here is but a taste: Plough Monday, St. Bride, St. Benedict, St. George, May Day, St. Barnabas, St. Margaret, Plague Service, St. Giles, St. Simon, Guy Fawkes and Christmas. Saint Monday was merely one more day of rest.
The tenacity and strength of the industrial workers to resist was deeply embedded. Saint Monday was a weekly activity that symbolised the strenuous efforts of the people to be heard. Each time people did not appear for work on Mondays was a vehement and defiant statement.
A division had formed between the different and emerging tiers of society: the working class and the industrial factory owners. Naturally, Saint Monday was frowned upon by the latter. Any discordance was bound to incur the disdain, ire and fear of those who purportedly held the reins of the society—the government and industry owners.
With industrialisation, the separation felt by the working class and symbolised by the observance of Saint Monday was a call for change. It could only do so when the rights of the people could be reinstated.
Seeking a New Way of Life
While they had been thrust into a maelstrom where dawn ’til dusk work had defined their lives, efforts were underway to reduce the work load. They actually fought for something many of us now take for granted.
Centuries ago, as industrialisation took hold, the work week consisted of every day except Sunday. The earlier noted 14-16 hour day almost demanded the very souls of the workers. But change was underway.
Robert Owen (1771-1858) was a visionary. He owned the New Lanark mills, about an hour from Glasgow, Scotland. There, his objective, along with forging a successful business, was to improve the lives of his workers. Termed the ‘formation of character’, the attempt was “. . . to create a more moral, humane, kind, active, and educated workforce by providing an environment in which such traits could be nourished from childhood onward.”1 The changes Owen introduced made a world of difference to the conditions—reduced working hours, health and education reforms.
In Britain, more change was underway in 1833 with the passing of the Factory Act. This piece of legislation banned children under 9 from working in the textile industry. It also limited the working hours of 10-13 year old to 48 hours. Meanwhile 14-18 year old were capped at 69 hours. All this tells us one thing. Prior to this legislation, children, in particular, were working what amounted to slave-driving hours.
By 1847, further legislation limited women and children to 10 hours a day and in 1864, the regulations were extended to factories other than textiles and coal mines. Despite these initiatives, Saint Monday remained embedded in the way of life in Britain.
However, initiatives to provide more free time helped to diminish the “celebration” of Saint Monday. As the nineteenth century wore on, individuals representative of religious bodies advocated for a Saturday half-holiday. The belief was this would benefit the working class, refreshing them and enhancing their mental well-being.
In places such as Britain, the idea of a half-holiday on Saturday was gaining ground with unions eager to pull away from a formalised break in the week no longer tied to custom. Dear Saint Monday would no longer be necessary.
Monday’s story is beset with moments of celebration, awe and joy at one moment, while firmly established as a symbol of resistance at another. Nowadays, Monday has somewhat diminished in its appeal, a day more to bemoan than celebrate.
It’s similar to how Saint Monday was rallied around to permit a ‘down’ day following utter jubilation the night before. Although, we at least have a weekend to unwind. Our forebears didn’t even have their Saturday half-holiday, yet. So, what’s our excuse?
How We Feel Come Monday
Some say that many of us are just not very content with our lives. The feeling is that if we were all right with where we are in our lives, awaking on Monday would be a joy. Mondays have become a stereotypical symbol for our manacled freedom. Come Monday, we’re forced to do all the duties and tasks we’d rather not do. We’re paid to do them, so we’re told to buck up. We groan and get on with it.
But hey, everyone has things they’d rather not do. In part, it’s all about control. At our places of work, we may be agitated simply by the fact we’re governed by others. We largely have little control over whether to do a certain task or not. No one likes to be in this type of circumstance, devoid of freedom. But maybe we need to shift our focus.
Maybe It’s Not All That Bad
Maybe it’s time to identify some of the myriad freedoms we do enjoy. We may not be our own boss at work, although we can rejoice in our free will in other ways. We can go on a bike ride or hike, wear certain clothes, listen to a certain type of music or eat a certain kind of food. The fact of the matter is—and we must remember this—we often have free time. Remember, people centuries ago, just simply worked. There was little time to do anything else other than pray for release on Sundays.
Another thing to bear in mind is the importance of looking at the overall picture. Is it possible to understand those individual tasks as part of a larger more valuable obligation? For example, we’re told to make phone calls to see who can attend an exposition. In and of itself, making phone calls can be somewhat onerous. However, it improves when we understand it from the perspective of getting the exposition up and running. So, it’s just one of the numerous things that need to be done. “We all need to put our oar in,” so to speak to get it done.
The other thing we need to bear in mind is, when we really explore our troubles, we are sometimes forced to realise they’re not so bad after all. Just think back to a few centuries ago when people were working 60-90 hours a week—including Saturday. Then, the more benign and acceptable qualities of what we’re expected to do may better shine through. It’s not all that bad.
When we’re done trying to face our week on Monday and things still seem unbearable, maybe we have to face certain realities. Perhaps it’s time to find a job that better suits our purpose in life. We can lay our troubles at the door of a Monday that seems to signify all that is wrong in our lives. But it often indicates a more fundamental change we need to take—finding a more meaningful job.
Mondays are complex entities in our lives. They emerge from a rich heritage, extending centuries into the past. They’ve played starring roles in the efforts people have made to be at peace with their lives. At the same time, Mondays have been weighed down complaints that sometimes fundamentally find their origins on a discomfort with our own lives. So, in the end, it’s not Monday at all.
We must take another look. The day of the moon is just another day. Any meaning is too often ours to grant.
1Claeys, Gregory 1991 Robert Owen A New View of Society and Other Writings (London: Penguin Books), x.