What Is The First Day Of The Week In The US?

by oaeen

The concept of the “first day of the week” carries significant cultural, religious, and practical implications. In the United States, this topic is especially intricate due to the nation’s diverse demographic and historical background. While Sunday is widely regarded as the first day of the week in both religious and cultural contexts, there are variations in how this is interpreted and practiced across different sectors of society. This comprehensive article explores the historical origins, religious significance, societal norms, and practical applications surrounding the first day of the week in the United States.

Historical Origins

Ancient Calendars

The seven-day week has ancient origins, most notably rooted in the Babylonian and Hebrew calendars. The Babylonians, who were keen astronomers, based their week on the seven celestial bodies they could see with the naked eye: the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. Each day was associated with one of these celestial bodies.

The Hebrews adopted a similar seven-day structure, as reflected in the Genesis creation narrative. In this context, the seventh day, or Shabbat, is a day of rest, thereby making the preceding day (Sunday) the first day of the week.

Roman Influence

The Roman calendar also adopted the seven-day week from the Babylonian system. However, it was Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD who formally instituted Sunday as the first day of the week and a day of rest in the Roman Empire. This decision was heavily influenced by Christianity, which was gaining prominence as the empire’s state religion.

Religious Significance


In Christianity, Sunday holds particular significance as it is believed to be the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. As a result, Sunday became the primary day of worship and rest for Christians. This tradition was inherited from early Christian communities who gathered on Sunday for communal worship and the Eucharist, distinguishing it from the Jewish Sabbath, which is observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening.

The historical basis for Sunday worship can be traced back to the New Testament, where several passages reference the “first day of the week” in connection with key events such as the resurrection (Mark 16:2, Matthew 28:1) and communal gatherings (Acts 20:7).


For Jews, the week starts with Sunday, following the biblical creation narrative where God rested on the seventh day (Shabbat). This delineation places Saturday as the final and holiest day of the week. Despite living in a predominantly non-Jewish society, many American Jews maintain this understanding within their religious and cultural practices.

Societal Norms

Cultural Practices

In the United States, Sunday is commonly recognized as the first day of the week in cultural contexts, influenced by both religious traditions and societal customs. This is evident in the layout of calendars, most of which display Sunday as the starting point. This convention is reflected in daily language and planning, where the weekend typically refers to Saturday and Sunday, with the latter marking the beginning of the new week.

Media and Pop Culture

Media and pop culture reinforce the idea of Sunday as the first day of the week. Television schedules, for example, often start their weekly programming grids on Sunday. Popular culture, including songs, films, and literature, frequently reference Sunday as a day of rest and new beginnings.

Practical Applications

Work and Business

In professional and business contexts, the interpretation of the first day of the week can vary. While many businesses and offices consider Monday the start of the workweek, planning and operational schedules often reference Sunday as the first day. For example, financial institutions and stock markets typically follow a Monday to Friday workweek, but fiscal weeks and scheduling systems often start with Sunday.


In the American educational system, the school week generally begins on Monday and ends on Friday. However, academic calendars, including those for extracurricular activities and planning purposes, typically recognize Sunday as the first day of the week.

Government and Legal Standards

ISO 8601 Standard

Internationally, the ISO 8601 standard, which designates Monday as the first day of the week, has been adopted by many countries and organizations to ensure consistency and clarity in international communication and data interchange. While the U.S. is influenced by ISO standards in various sectors, it officially continues to recognize Sunday as the first day of the week.

Federal and State Practices

U.S. federal and state government practices often reflect the traditional Sunday start of the week. Official documents, public services, and administrative processes typically align with this convention. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies use calendars starting on Sunday for public health data reporting.

Variations Across Demographics

Ethnic and Religious Communities

Diverse ethnic and religious communities in the U.S. may follow different conventions based on their cultural or religious practices. For example, Muslim communities, observing Friday as their holy day, may structure their weeks differently for religious activities. Similarly, Seventh-day Adventists observe Saturday as their Sabbath, influencing their weekly planning and activities.

Secular vs. Religious Observance

Secular individuals and communities might adhere to a Monday start for practical reasons related to work and schooling. However, religious individuals and communities are more likely to follow the traditional Sunday start, aligning with their faith-based practices.

Historical Shifts and Influences

Colonial and Early America

In colonial and early American history, Sunday was widely recognized as a day of rest and worship, heavily influenced by Puritanical and Christian traditions. This practice was codified into law in many colonies, where “blue laws” restricted various activities on Sundays.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution brought significant changes to work patterns and societal norms. The establishment of a formal workweek, typically Monday to Saturday, necessitated a clearer delineation of the week. Despite these changes, Sunday retained its status as a day of rest and the traditional start of the week.

See also: What Is The Best Day Of The Week?

Comparative Perspectives

European Norms

In many European countries, Monday is considered the first day of the week, in accordance with ISO 8601. This reflects both practical and cultural shifts, aligning workweeks and reducing confusion in international business and communication. However, countries like the United Kingdom still culturally recognize Sunday as the start of the week in many contexts.

Global Variations

Around the world, the first day of the week varies based on cultural, religious, and regional practices. In Islamic countries, for instance, Saturday or Sunday might be considered the first day of the workweek due to Friday being the holy day.

Impact of Technology

Digital Calendars

Technology has introduced new complexities in understanding the first day of the week. Digital calendars and software often allow users to set their preferred start of the week, catering to both Sunday and Monday preferences. This flexibility reflects the need to accommodate diverse global users.

Data Standardization

For businesses and organizations operating internationally, standardizing data and schedules often involves aligning with ISO standards, leading to the adoption of Monday as the first day of the week for consistency in global operations.

Future Trends

Cultural Persistence

Despite international standards and technological influences, the cultural and religious significance of Sunday as the first day of the week in the U.S. is likely to persist. Traditions rooted in religious practices and societal norms continue to shape how Americans perceive the week’s beginning.

Globalization and Standardization

As globalization advances, there may be a gradual shift towards adopting international standards, particularly in business and technology. However, this shift will likely coexist with traditional practices, allowing for flexibility and personal preference.


The designation of the first day of the week in the United States is a complex interplay of historical, religious, cultural, and practical factors. While Sunday is widely recognized as the first day of the week, particularly in cultural and religious contexts, variations exist across different sectors and communities. Understanding this multifaceted issue requires an appreciation of the diverse influences that shape American society. As the U.S. continues to navigate the balance between tradition and modernity, the significance of the first day of the week will remain a reflection of its rich and dynamic heritage.

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