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Big Bang X-Mas Tree

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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One Sunday morning, while reading Dennis Overbye’s Lonely Heart of the Cosmos, it occurred to me: a Christmas tree is shaped just like CERN’s diagram of the evolution of the universe. I thought— here’s my chance to add a little truth to my family’s traditions. If the familiar apical star stands for the “bang” itself, then the rest of the usual adornments would represent the formation of suns, elements, planets, and the evolution of multi-cellular life. It could work.

Yeah—all my baby pictures, my glittered shark, my shells, and even my plush gecko would have to hang off the very bottom branches for accuracy. Yeah—I would have to explain to my future children that space exploded in every direction instead of just a triangle. But, it’s a definite improvement on the total absence of meaning of my neighbor’s homogeneously decorated spruce.

And, it’s not too far-fetched. Christmas trees were originally erected to celebrate the trifecta of the father/son/holy-ghost, and now that everyone has totally forgotten that fact, co-opting the triangular shape for a different purpose could catch on.

Here’s how it turned out:

Here’s how to do it:

13.7 Billion Years Ago—Big Bang

A light-up silver star represents the “big bang.” If it’s too confusing, it could be left bare. After all, there was no fire in the “bang”, just extremely rapid expansion of space.

3 Seconds Later—Elements Formed

Three lengths of beaded garland make the elements, each twisted around the tree and splayed it out to cover as much area as possible. I could have also use small, mirrored balls instead.

13.6999 Billion Years Ago—Stars/Suns Formed

Two strings of last year’s yellow lights starting just below the tree’s apical branch, make the suns. Martin Luther supposedly decorated his tree with candles to represent stars, too.

4.5 Billion Years Ago—Our Solar System Comes Together

A plastic solar system set just so happened to have loops on the top of each planet for inserting ornament hooks. Bonus if it glows in the dark, too.

4.5 Billion Years Ago—RNA and DNA

Curly ribbon cut from a Hallmark bow makes DNA, which you can pierce with ornament hooks and hang on all the branches underneath the solar system.

400 Million Years Ago till now—Multi-cellular Life

My old glitter shark, plush gecko, shiny bird, and my baby pictures hang at the very bottom, left to right in order of which “evolved” first. I also hung up my ape evolution figurines so I could have an excuse to talk about human evolution.

For reference sake:

~400 Million Years Ago—Insects

~360 MYA—Amphibians

~200 MYA—Mammals

~150 MYA—Birds

~65 MYA—Dinosaurs

~200,000 Years Ago—Modern Humans

The Story

I tried out the narrative on my 8-year-old stepson, “13.7 Billion Years Ago our universe didn’t exist, probably. Then, space suddenly started exploding in all directions which is to say it started expanding very fast…and things like stars and elements began to form….” He was a little impatient with the story, but really excited to help hang ornaments in order. “The gecko should definitely go before the gorilla, and your baby picture should definitely go before my soccer ornament,” he said.

Next year, we’ll work on the finer details.

Casey Rentz About the Author: Casey Rentz is a microbiologist-turned-science journalist living and working in Los Angeles. She freelances for Web, radio, and print. Also, she consults in the communications department of the nonprofit Informed by Nature, writes and illustrates a zine called The Green Box, concocts epic performance art projects, and paints abstract expressionist style works. Casey blogs at Natural Selections and tweets at @caseyrentz. Follow on Twitter @caseyrentz.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 6 Comments

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  1. 1. kclancy 5:06 pm 12/21/2011

    This is AWESOME. Thanks for sharing! When my daughter gets older I will incorporate this into our own secular Christmas traditions.

    By the way, I’m pretty sure the Christmas tree was a pagan tradition before it got coopted for the whole trinity thing.

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  2. 2. BevSutton 12:57 pm 12/23/2011

    I also love this … but I have issues with your timeline. 65 mya is when the non-avian dinosaurs died out, not when they appeared.

    Yes, kclancy an evergreen tree was indeed a pagan tradition.

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  3. 3. hafaramon 1:12 pm 12/23/2011

    That’s sweet, but the statement, “Christmas trees were originally erected to celebrate the trifecta of the father/son/holy-ghost” is actually false (perpetrated by Christians trying to co-opt a pagan tradition without acknowledging its non-Christian roots). I’m all for creating new traditions, and even co-opting from other traditions (it’s the nature of culture), but let’s not promote collective amnesia in the name of truth.

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  4. 4. Dan_Watson 3:19 am 12/25/2011

    What’s even more interesting is that the Christian Trinity comes from the Tree of Life which in terms of kabbalah is the crown, knowledge/understanding, and the messenger that reaches across the abyss. The tree of life also represents creation which is accepted to be mass of light that was originally restricted, but then expanded.

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  5. 5. Dan_Watson 3:23 am 12/25/2011

    Something else that’s amazing is that I came to this very same conclusion and started posting it 2 days after this person came to the same conclusion, but I posted it with different pictures..

    Link to this
  6. 6. Dan_Watson 3:26 am 12/25/2011

    I took it one step further and even compared wreaths to galaxies. What’s this holiday really all about?

    Link to this

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