Hello, friends! Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about science or science-related terms. In today’s episode, we’re talking about:
Newtonmas is often described as a secular alternative to Christmas. Some people see Newtonmas as an affront to Christmas and all things Christian. Me? I don’t believe science and religion necessarily need to be adversaries, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t celebrate two things on the same day.
Newtonmas commemorates the fact that Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day, 1642. Or at least that’s Newton’s birthday according to the Julian calendar. According to the Gregorian calendar, Newton was born on January 4, 1643.
If I may wander into the calendar technicality weeds for a moment, the Gregorian calendar was first introduced in 1582, but it was not adopted by all countries right away. Great Britain didn’t switch over until 1752. And so at the time of Newton’s birth (1642/1643), in the place where he was born (Lincolnshire, England), the Julian calendar was still in effect, and it remained in effect for Newton’s entire lifetime. So as far as Newton and his countrymen were concerned, he was born on December 25, 1642.
The first documented celebration of Newtonmas occurred in Japan. In the late 1800’s, a small group of students at the Imperial University in Tokyo formed an Isaac Newton fan club. This fan club rapidly grew in popularity and soon included a mix of undergrads, grad students, and professors.
And so on Christmas Day, 1890 (Gregorian calendar), members of this Newton fan club got together for the first ever Netwonmas party. According to this article from the time, the party included humorous science lectures, a science-themed gift lottery, and plenty of “laughter and good cheer.” Basically, Newtonmas started out as nerdy fun. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s what it still is (and I do not want to hear any “war of Christmas” nonsense in the comments, thank you very much).
So merry Newtonmas, friends! And merry Christmas, too! There’s no reason you can’t celebrate both, if you want to.
P.S.: This will be my final blog post of 2020. I’m taking some time off for the holidays. I’ll see you again, friends, on January 6, 2021 (Gregorian calendar) for the first IWSG post of the New Year.