Saturday is so clearly the best day of the week that only a contrarian gadfly (or someone who has to work that day) would argue otherwise.
This is part 6 in a 7-part series on the meaning, facts, pop culture and inspiration contained within the history and psychology of each day of the week.
Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday| Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday
The superhero has just flown into our narrative. It was looking bad there for awhile, the dark forces of the previous days had us firmly in their grip, and it seemed as if we’d never be rescued. But, as in the usual superhero storyline, help has arrived in the nick of time.
Saturday is special for what it is not: It is not a typical work or school day. Saturday is tabula rasa — an empty canvas ready to paint upon it a fresh experience. We are born anew each Saturday, retaking possession of our personal lives and infusing it with our own joys and priorities. But Saturdays are also snowflakes: beautiful, unique and too quick to melt against the windshield of time.
Even if today is one of religious observance instead of more hedonistically focused, most people experience a significant reduction of obligations on this day, or at least happier and more home-centered obligations. Lean in to all that joy. Appreciate the snowflakes until they melt.
When I was a kid, Saturday morning cartoons were mini-vacations. In college, Saturday nights held an exciting tension between expectation and freedom that was so intense it could only be managed by drinking alcohol, or so it naively seemed.
Etymologically, on this day we honor the Roman god Saturn (aka Cronus, for the Greeks) who had a predilection for eating his own children, lest they become rivals. Only Zeus survived this celestial, cannibalistic infanticide. But Saturn should have been less paranoid because Saturday has no rivals.
Saturday is so clearly the best day of the week that only a contrarian gadfly would argue otherwise. Saturday is the undisputed heavyweight champion, the MVP, the VIP, the best picture Oscar winner, the gold medalist. If you didn’t sleep in late on this morning, it’s probably by choice. If you don’t have something planned for this night, it’s probably also by choice.
So, what do we do on Saturday?
On a typical weekend we sleep 9 and half hours a night (nearly two hours longer than a week day), followed by 6.5 hours of leisure a day, 2.5 hours cooking and cleaning, and 1.5 hours eating and drinking (only 20 minutes longer than on a week day), and an hour shopping and 30 minutes volunteering. That’s according to the American Time Use Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We fill the weekend time surplus (left by not working), with more important work: family time, friends time, nature, passion projects, home projects, errands that can’t wait, movies, shopping, games, special breakfasts, exercise, the arts.
Or maybe we take a nice, long, hot bath in honor of the Scandinavian countries that call this day lördag, or bathing day, dating back to a reminder when weekly body washing was considered frequent for too many Vikings.
Some of these fun Saturday activities have risk, though. The greatest number of car crash deaths occur on Saturdays, as well as the greatest number of deaths due to “contact with a venomous plant or animal.” And as vampire hunters are well aware, Saturdays are the best day for a kill since the undead take the day off from their blood lust by resting in their coffins, if legends are to be believed.
Saturday night alive
And speaking of wild animals, the time of the week we’re most likely to let ourselves out of the cage is Saturday night. For those who choose to cash it in, it is the golden ticket of freedom or licentiousness, buffered by a whole other day to recover if it all goes wrong, or well. Google data shows a spike in “vodka” searches on Saturday (and a spike in “hangover” searches the next day).
“Saturday belongs to the Devil,” wrote the gonzo-savant Hunter S. Thompson in his ESPN.com column “Hey Rube.” “It is the only night of the week when he gives out free passes to the late show at the Too Much Fun Club.”
There are a disproportionate number of songs about Saturday. Elton John; the Bay City Rollers; Lynerd Skynerd; Chicago; Earth, Wind & Fire; the Grateful Dead: They’re all “lookin’ for the heart of Saturday night,” as Tom Waits put it. Collectively, their songs contain a lot of dancin’, singin’, fightin’ and gettin’ high.
But it’s not all fun for these crooners. Sam Cooke laments not having a girl to hang with on Saturday night, and Frank Sinatra reminds us that if you’ve recently had a break-up, “Saturday night is the loneliest night in the week.”
Saddest of all, though, is that Saturday must end, disappearing like a weekly Brigadoon into the magical mist from which it emerged, and not to return for another 100 years (or so it feels).
The good news is that if you maxed out the day, you still have another to relax or recover before the work week restarts. Or atone. There is an Arabic expression that goes “Min sallaf es-sabt laqa el-ḥadd qiddamuh,” meaning “When Saturday is gone, one will find Sunday’’ — your actions will catch up with you as surely as Sunday follows Saturday.
But you may just as easily find Saturday ending and feel like you did not fulfill its promise of freedom or relaxation. If so, don’t worry. As Yoda reminds Obi-Won Kenobi in “The Empire Strikes Back” when speaking of a jedi back-up to Luke Skywalker: “There is another.”
Help us, Sunday, (the subject of the next story in this series), you’re our only hope.
As for making Saturdays better: Any day of the week holds the capacity to be your favorite. All it requires is taking control of it and bending it to your will, the subject of my story on hacking your week for CNN.com.