The origins of Newtonmas are murky at best. Michael E. Marotta, a technical writer in Austin, Texas, has sent Newtonmas cards for 30 years and remembers a radio commentary he gave in 1982 that highlighted the parallels between Newton and Jesus.
Zebrowski thought she invented Newtonmas, but was delighted to learn she had co-revelers when the Skeptics Society sent her a catalogue of “Newtonmas gifts” — books like The Believing Brain, How to Debate a Creationist and Why People Believe Weird Things.
“I just made it up back in the 1990s as a joke, just to promote items we were selling,” said Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society, which aims to debunk supernatural and pseudoscientific claims. “Everybody was giving me a hard time for calling our party a Christmas party so I said, ‘Alright, I am calling it Newtonmas.'”
Matt Blum, who wrote about Newtonmas in a 2007 post on Wired magazine’s GeekDad blog, says his high school physics teacher marked Newton’s birthday with experiments and “physics carols.”
A 1892 issue of Nature magazine bestows the carol credit on some Victorian-era English scientists.
“At Christmas 1890, or Newtonmas 248, for the first time,” the Nature article reads, “the members of the Newtonkai, or Newton Association, met in the Physical Laboratory of the Imperial University, to hear each other talk, to distribute appropriate gifts, and to lengthen out the small hours with laughter and good cheer. The Society has no President: a portrait of the august Sir Isaac Newton presides over the scene.”
Newtonmas picked up momentum — in keeping with Newton’s Second Law of Motion, of course — in 2007, when the evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins championed it in a British magazine.