Very interesting article at the LA Times:
HERE IN THE MODERN United States, we tend to believe we've achieved a kinder, gentler workplace that honors 9-to-5ers with a special day off in early September, especially when compared with the workaday world of the past. But 2,000 years ago, workers in Athens, Rome and other cities around the Mediterranean got far more recognition -- and time off -- than we do. Their calendars were crowded with occupation-specific festivals.
Most of these celebrations had an essentially religious base -- either to say thanks or as appeasement. Plumbers, for instance, didn't have a "Plumbers Day." Their holiday honored their patron god -- Saturn, most likely, whose symbol was lead. Most drainpipes connecting Romans to their lavish supply of clean water were made of lead -- plumbum in Latin. In later Roman times, state priests, the Senate and/or the emperor decreed additional festivals as national holidays.
Workdays and times were organized differently 2,000 years ago. No weekends, much less three-day ones. The two-week summer vacation? Unheard-of. The daily grind was, in fact, daily, beginning at dawn and ending around 3 p.m. Break time, however, was always in sight. By AD 165, the number of festival days, imperial birthdays and other labor-optional days reached 135. Emperor Marcus Aurelius tried to stop vacation inflation, but it was a doomed endeavor. In time, the runaway holiday calendar rose to 177 days of leisure.
When the western half of the Roman Empire crumbled in AD 476, more was lost than good plumbing. The number of workers' holidays began to shrink. Today, the U.S. is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays. 9 to 5, indeed. Saturn help us, we're headed for XXIV / VII.