Sagan_Druyan But the Christmas season isn't just for Christians anymore: Even atheists are picking up on the holiday spirit, with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and like-minded deep thinkers putting on a show called “Nine Lessons and Carols for the Godless.” The London show looks at marvels such as the big bang, evolution and the nature of consciousness from a totally secular perspective. Dawkins told the Telegraph that he was taking part in the show because he was “fed up with atheists being portrayed as Scrooges, trying to rain on Christmas.” Whether you're more concerned about the soul or the solstice, December provides a good opportunity for reflecting on cosmic themes. You don't have to be a religious believer to get into that reflective frame of mind. “You just have to be an astronomical believer,” Ann Druyan, the widow of the late astronomer (and agnostic) Carl Sagan, told me today.

“There's a sense of sadness, but also tremendous hope – more hope for the future than I've had for a long time,” Druyan said. One big reason for that is last month's election of President-elect Barack Obama – the candidate for whom Druyan went doorbell-ringing this year. Obama's recent choices for science-related posts have added to her optimism. “I think Carl would have worked to get Obama elected,” Druyan said. “I think he would have been very excited.” Although it's been 12 years since Sagan left this life, his legacy is, if anything, more lively than ever. Druyan is tickled to hear that people are selling WWSD (What Would Sagan Do?) T-shirts and that there are thousands and thousands of Carl Sagan videos on YouTube. (It hasn't gotten to the “billions and billions” level … yet.)

Read more here and listen to Carl Sagan deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture in 1977 on the topic of the planets.