We need not have a seven-day week, says Jill Lepore in The New Yorker. “The sun makes days, seasons and years, and the moon makes months, but people invented weeks.” We don’t know exactly why our week is seven days; it may have its roots in Genesis or Roman astrology. Yet it only became widely popularised about 200 years ago, when factory life arrived in America. Before that, weeks had little structure, apart from days of worship.
No one has ever been able to “topple the seven-day week”. The leaders of the French Revolution tried to institute a 10-day week and the Bolsheviks wanted a five-day one. Towards the end of the 19th century, Americans began complaining that the days and dates did not align each year. Miss Elisabeth Achelis, a New York heiress born in 1880, was “particularly opposed to the wandering Easter” and advocated a simplified World Calendar to ensure that “if you were born on a Friday, your birthday would always fall on a Friday”. It went down well in a debate at the League of Nations, and later at the UN, but Congress was never in the “mood to tamper with the calendar”.