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cosmic calendar
from Fraknoi, Voyages through the Universe, © Harcourt, Inc. 2000.

(That post title should do wonders with the search engines.)

Once in a while, a meme comes along that is so cool and worthwhile it simply HAS to catch fire — like “Chocolate Rain,” if it didn’t make me want to squish a puppy after three minutes.

Now Friendly Humanist Tim Mills in Edinburgh (no no, not “Eddinberg” — it’s pronounced “Eddinbudda.” Rhymes with “bread ‘n’ budda,” for no reason) Scotland has come up with the solution to the many humanist attempts to forge new, meaningful holidays — most of which, let’s face it, are weak and self-conscious, even if well-meaning.

First Tim posted this at the PBB Forums:

I’m currently in the thrall of Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar analogy – scaling the entire history so far of the universe into a single year.

It has occurred to me is that this is potentially a cool source for a few humanist holidays. The two biggies (to me) are Big Bang Day (January 1, 15 billion years ago) and the Arrival of Humans (December 31, from 10:30pm on – the last 2.5 million years).

Other good ones would be:

May 1: Milky Way May Day, formation of the Milky Way galaxy 10 billion years ago
September 9: Sun Day, formation of the Solar System 4.7 bya
September 25: Abiogenesis Day, origin of life 4bya
November 1: Sex Day, evolution of sexual reproduction, 2.5 bya

And most of December, from the establishment of an oxygen atmosphere on the 1st (1.3bya) through the Cambrian Explosion on the 15th (~700mya) and then almost daily celebrations of new life (worms, trilobites, fish, land plants, land animals, insects, flying insects, …). We could have the coolest Advent calendars!

(If you aren’t familiar with Sagan’s Calendar, go here before reading any further.)

He elaborated in a recent blogpost:

A source of many potentially awesome holidays, at least in the final few months of the year, is the Cosmic Calendar, brainchild of the great Carl Sagan. In it, the entire 15-billion-year history of the cosmos as we know it is scaled into a single year, with the big bang at the start of January 1st and the present moment at the end of December 31st. Along the way you get events like the formation of the Milky Way galaxy (May 1), the Solar System (September 9), and the Earth (September 14), the origin of life (September 25), on up through our ancestors: eukaryotes (November 15), worms (December 16), fish (December 19), insects (December 21), dinosaurs (December 24), mammals (December 26), primates (December 29), hominids (December 30), and then down through the evening of December 31.

Tim’s idea hit me as brilliant, just as quickly as most such attempts hit me as lame. Pro-life Christians would quickly take over Life Day (Sept 25), of course — just like they took the solstice and the vernal equinox and turned them into…into… *Sigh.* It’s too fresh. I still can’t talk about it.

At least they’d keep their mitts off Sex Day!

The Cosmic Calendar is busy busy busy in December, so it’s the Advent calendar concept that I find particularly rich — celebrating the advent of complex life!

The advent calendars of my youth had little windows for each December day, behind which was a tiny toy or stale bit of chocolate. I picture a Cosmic Advent Calendar with gummy worms on December 16th, gummy fish on the 19th, Pop Rocks to represent the dinosaur-smacking asteroid on the 28th, chocolate monkeys on the 29th…and Flintstones vitamins on the 31st! Okay, help me out with that last one.

Imagine the educational potential in such a thing. I intend to mock one up for my family this year. Many thanks to the Friendly Humanist!

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.