Lately on Twitter I’ve noticed complaints from a number of conservatives about people who celebrate Isaac Newton’s birthday on December 25. It’s a tactic of the War on Christmas, they tell us, to claim he was born on the 25th. If so, then all of England was waging this war during his lifetime.
The case against regarding December 25 as his birthday is that under the reformed European calendar, which everyone now uses, his birthday would have been January 4. However, Newton was born in 1643 and died in 1726. England didn’t adopt the new calendar until 1750. It’s perfectly reasonable to regard his birthday as the date in use in his home country.
Dates of birth don’t have any intrinsic significance, of course. Those who want to call it January 4 can. But it’s especially silly for people who celebrate Jesus’s birthday on December 25 to express outrage at alleged inaccuracy in such matters. Even if you take everything in the Bible as literal truth, there’s nothing in it that indicates Jesus was born in winter, and the nocturnal watch of the shepherds makes a spring day much more likely.
Some people, like me, like to observe Newton’s birthday because the big religious holiday on December 25 has no special meaning to us, and it’s nice to celebrate something we find more meaningful. Let’s face it, this is the real reason for the outrage; a lot of Christians think no one but them should engage in any seasonal celebrations. Some of those people know enough history to know that shortly after Newton was born, the Puritans passed a law banning many forms of Christmas observation, so that gives conservative Christians a reason not to like anything English from that period. (I’d agree with their low opinion of the Puritans, if not their reasons.) On top of that, Newton may have been inclined toward Unitarianism.
If you missed December 25, celebrate Newton’s birthday again on January 4. That should make everybody happy.