Column: Newton’s Laws of Santa Claus

By Erin Comerford

Although my family has never been religious – quite the opposite, actually – we have always ended up celebrating Christmas. I suppose it was all about keeping things traditional and not letting us kids feel left out when all of our friends were getting Tickle Me Elmo’s and pink Barbie cars. And there is the problem of having a very religious extended family; no one would have dared allow my parents to deprive us of the opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. Of course, we went without the angel on the top of the Christmas tree, and we were never dragged to church; in fact, it’s probably true that none of us were really aware of the true spirit of Christmas until our teenage years. I’m not complaining. My motto has always been that wintertime should be about shopping for friends, wearing tacky sweaters, and drinking lots of hot chocolate. Maybe I am a Grinch for feeling this way, but who amongst my generation can argue that those haven’t been their favorite holiday pastimes?

In the past, Christmas has generally gone like this – my entire family sleeps in, then sits around the living room with coffee, hot chocolate, and cinnamon rolls. We open presents, one by one, which are all from either my parents or one of my three sisters. Santa Claus has never sent me anything, for some reason. After this little family tradition, we are shuttled off to all of the grandparents’ houses to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth while secretly shooting eye rolls to one another. Usually, one of my grandmothers gets wine-drunk and reprimands my parents for not raising her grandchildren to be good Christian girls. This year, however, my thirteen-year-old sister has decided that we should begin celebrating Newton Day.

Isaac Newton is commonly thought to have been born on Christmas Day, although because of the changes to the calendar that took place after his birth, it’s all a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, I think there could be something to it. Since Christians get a national holiday to celebrate their spiritual leader, it’s only natural that a growing atheist community should seize the opportunity to show their own colors. Perhaps Newton isn’t relatable to Jesus in any way, and this is a weak parallel, but hell, I mean, isn’t that what atheism is all about? We’re not hero-worshippers, by any means. We’re just people who want to think about things rationally and live our lives in the present. So, this holiday season, why not come together with the people you care about and thank the Lord that science exists?

My family has started a group text, trying to come up with activities for Newton Day. If you think this sounds a bit forced, I would say that you’ve got the right idea. Still, it’s something that we can all feel a part of. For most of the holiday season, atheists are outsiders. We sit at dinner tables while our extended families send prayers to Heaven, and we nod off half way through. We accept gifts from people who think that Christmas gifts should have religious significance, but know that we don’t feel the same way. I am not suggesting that Christmas is at fault here. It’s a wonderful day, and it represents wonderful values, and those who cherish it should continue to do so. Maybe, though, there is a way for the holiday season to be about everyone.

This year, atheists, instead of feigning your way through another Christmas dinner, join the Comerford family in celebrating all of the world’s developments toward reason. Make a connect-the-dot portrait of Isaac Newton, in all his glory, on a piece of graph paper, and send it out to all your loved ones. Drop a plastic Santa off of your roof and let him bask in the pleasant sensations of gravity. Ask for coal in your stocking, then use it to prove that global warming is, in fact, a man-made phenomenon. If you’re feeling up to it, do a few calculus problems. Check them twice. For the grandparents who don’t understand your indifference to this holy day, make some candy canes in your basement laboratory and send them a few as a peace offering. It’s time to stop faking, once and for all. And to all a good night.