Rich Handley Author and Editor

Trek the Halls: A Christmas Carol in Space

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the stars,
Not a creature was stirring, from Qo’noS to Mars.
The holiday season was met with good cheer,
Even out here in space, on the final fronter.

Okay, so Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” will never be replaced with the above rhyme, but with winter upon us, it’s time to explore how Star Trek has historically handled Christmas, the Christian festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Despite the popular myth that Star Trek characters don’t celebrate Christmas, the holiday has been mentioned onscreen many times, dating back to the 1960s, and one thing is patently clear: in the eras of both James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, Christmas is still very much an active tradition.

The perpetuated “no Christmas” myth is understandable, though, as the franchise has a complicated relationship with religions, Christianity included. In “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, Kirk tells Apollo “We have no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate.” He even befriends Lucifer in “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.” Still, that quote to Apollo is significant, as it implies Kirk may be a Christian. That might raise eyebrows, for while Leonard McCoy and Christopher Pike are both men of faith, Jim Kirk has challenged any gods he’s encountered among the stars, from Vaal, Landru, and Gary Mitchell to Apollo, Kukulkan, and the false Sha Ka Ree deity.

Kirk is the great god-killer, famously demanding “What does God need with a starship?” in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. As such, one might be tempted to assume he’d hold religions, and religious holidays like Christmas, in contempt. And yet, Star Trek‘s first mention of Christmas involved a flashback to the captain enjoying a holiday party in The Original Series‘ “Dagger of the Mind,” held in the Enterprise‘s science lab. There, Jim had flirted with the appropriately named Helen Noel (the French word “nöel” meaning Christmas or Christmas carol), and the two had kissed and danced, with the hint that something more may have happened when he “dropped in” to see her.

While testing the Tantalus Penal Colony’s neural neutralizer, Noel altered Kirk’s memories of their night together to make him think he’d swept her off her feet and had carried her to his cabin, commenting, “You want me to manufacture a lie, wrap it up as a Christmas present for you?” So we have a Christmas party and now Christmas presents, indicating the holiday was undeniably celebrated in the 23rd century, and that Enterprise personnel were among those who observed it. This makes sense, as Star Trek is a franchise replete with holidays.

Characters have cited anniversaries and birthdays, notably in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, while others have alluded to Thanksgiving (“Charlie X”), Halloween (“Catspaw”), New Year’s Eve (“11:59”), Saint Patrick’s Day (“Fair Haven”), April Fool’s Day (“Brothers”), and the Mazurka Festival (“The Maquis”)—and those are just Earth-based holidays. On Bajor, they celebrate the Time of Cleansing (“Bar Association”), the Peldor Festival (“Fascination”), and Ha’mara (“Starship Down”). Klingons have the Day of Honor (“Day of Honor”) and the Kot’baval Festival (“Firstborn”), while Vulcans observe Kal Rekk and Rumarie (“Meld”), as well as Tal-Shanar (“Cold Front”).

Then there’s Batarael (“Aquiel”), Lohlunat (“Two Days and Two Nights”), Prixin (“Mortal Coil”), First Meal (“Meridian”), the Ktarian Music Festival (“Non Sequitur”), Lissepian Mother’s Day (“Who Mourns for Morn?”), and Ferengi Naming Day (“Rivals”). Let’s not forget First Contact Day (Star Trek: First Contact and “Children of Mars”), Federation Day (“The Outcast”), Captain Picard Day (“The Pegasus“), and Ancestors’ Eve (“11:59”)—and if we include violent cultist celebrations, there’s also Landru’s Festival, beginning with the Red Hour (“The Return of the Archons”). It’s Christmas, however, that has received the most attention when it comes to Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Devil’s Due,” for example, featured a holodeck recreation of Charles Dickens’ fantasy novel A Christmas Carol. The book, adapted many times on screen and on stage, centers around the haunting of disenfranchised miser Ebenezer Scrooge, as four spirits teach him the meaning of Christmas to help the old man regain his lost joy. In the episode, Data used Dickens’ work to study method acting, hoping that by recreating emotions in his performance as Scrooge, the android might discover emotions of his own. As will be discussed below, A Christmas Carol‘s themes have been prevalent throughout Star Trek‘s history.

Star Trek: Generations featured the franchise’s most extensive depiction of Christmas. While trapped in the Nexus, Picard experienced a traditional Yuletide morning with his imaginary not-Beverly wife and children in a beautifully decorated Victorian home, befitting the life he’d privately regretted not pursuing. Mourning the death of his brother Robert and nephew René, Jean-Luc briefly embraced the illusion of being a happy family man on Christmas, but as he gazed at the snow outside, the fantasy was shattered when bulb decorations containing small stars snapped him out of his reverie.

As it happens, actorPatrick Stewart portrayed Scrooge in a 1999 TV adaptation of A Christmas Carol, as well as in Stewart’s long-running one-man play, which debuted in 1987. William Shatner and James Cromwell (Zefram Cochrane) played the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future in the 2003 Hallmark Channel movie A Carol Christmas, and Shatner released a surreal holiday album in 2018 called Shatner Claus, featuring songs by Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren, and other famous musicians. Also, Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman happens to have been born on Christmas.

Star Trek: Voyager mentioned Christmas in several episodes. In the show’s pilot, “Caretaker,” Tom Paris recalled having lost his commission and gone to prison after covering up his own pilot error, causing three officers to die. Asked why he’d confessed even though it would destroy his career, he replied, “The ghosts of those three dead officers came to me in the middle of the night and taught me the true meaning of Christmas.” A Christmas Carol was also referenced in “The Omega Directive,” as the Doctor recommended Seven of Nine read the book for “educational value.”

In “Death Wish,” a suicidal Q Continuum member known as Quinn reduced the USS Voyager to the size of a tree ornament while attempting to hide from his kind, who were forcing immortality on him. Q plucked the decoration from the tree, however, and gazed through the viewscreen at the miniaturized crew, telling his depressed comrade there was nowhere to hide. The Continuum later allowed Quinn to end his existence, providing a somber Christmas gift. Not long thereafter, Hallmark marketed a Keepsake tree ornament of the Voyager, releasing a television advertisement that repurposed episode clips as though the characters were excited about the product.

William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, Patti Yasutake (Alyssa Ogawa), Robert O’Reilly (Gowron), Martha Hackett (Seska), and Christopher Lloyd (Kruge) all appeared in Hallmark Star Trek Christmas ads as well, some in character. More than a hundred ornaments based on the starships, characters, and props have been released since 1991, and prolific Star Trek novelist Kevin Dilmore is a senior writer for the company. Klingon Bird-of-Prey ornaments were used for battle sequences in Deep Space Nine‘s “The Way of the Warrior,” while “Prophecy” incorporated the Voyager, Bird-of-Prey, and D7 Battle Cruiser ornaments in Miral Paris’s crib mobile.

Another Christmas reference occurred in Voyager‘s “11:59,” when Kathryn Janeway’s ancestor Shannon O’Donnel commented that she was not looking forward to New Year’s Eve but was relieved Christmas had passed. In “Survival Instinct,” Janeway found her ready room filled with gifts from visiting alien delegates during a cultural exchange and noted that it looked like Christmas morning. Then, in “Spirit Folk,” Janeway’s holo-lover Michael Sullivan described Tom Paris and Harry Kim as “trussed up like Christmas turkeys,” later claiming it was “Christmas come early” after Kathryn gifted him with Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. In other words, Christmas clearly remained a popular tradition even in the 24th century.

Deep Space Nine and Enterprise both cited Christmas as well. Secret agent Julian Bashir, in “Our Man Bashir,” gifted KGB operative Anastasia Komananov with exploding earrings for Christmas, while in “A Night in Sickbay,” Jonathan Archer mocked the Kreetassan obsession with etiquette and social codes by joking that he’d worried their demands might entail “standing on one foot with my eyes shut, reciting The Night Before Christmas.”

In fact, of the first six Star Trek TV shows, The Animated Series was the only one not to reference the holiday which is amusing since it was the series most geared toward children. (More on that in a moment.) Neither Discovery, Short Treks, Picard, Lower Decks, nor Prodigy have done so in the modern era, but La’an Noonien-Singh described the quiet and solitude of an empty starship as being “like Christmas” in Strange New Worlds‘ “Spock Amok.”

Deep Space Nine aired “In the Cards,” which is not a Christmas episode but might as well be. With Benjamin Sisko distraught over the Dominion threat, Jake Sisko and his pal Nog tried to lift Ben out of his gloom with a mint-condition 1951 Willie Mays rookie baseball card. When someone else won the auction, the teens went to great lengths to obtain the card, trading one thing after another, and their plotting not only earned Ben an amazing gift but enabled Miles O’Brien to go kayaking, Bashir to find his lost teddy bear, Kira Nerys to deliver a vital speech, and Worf to listen to opera aboard the Defiant. This tale of Christmas-like magic would have impressed even O. Henry.

The Original Series‘ “Bread and Circuses” also never mentioned Christmas, though it revolved around Christianity’s rise on a parallel Earth, with Romans starting to worship the Son of God. “Friday’s Child” saw three wise men—Kirk, Spock, and McCoy—watching over a newborn child who would someday be a leader. The Next Generation‘s “The Child” involved a virgin birth, and in its finale, “All Good Things…”, Q subjected Picard to trials in the past, present, and future, mirroring Scrooge’s ghostly visitations. Ronald D. Moore cowrote that finale, so it’s no surprise his prior Q-centric episode, “Tapestry,” had originally been conceived as a pastiche of A Christmas Carol.

None of Earth’s other seasonal holidays—Chanukah, Dōngzhì Festival, Hogmanay, Koliada, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Mawlid an-Nabī, Omar Koshan, Sadeh, Soyal, St. Lucia Day, St. Nicholas Day, Three Kings Day, Yule, and so forth—have been mentioned on any show, though Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, was referenced in “Devil’s Day,” and Alexandria Books had a small menorah in “11:59.” What’s more, Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of “The Ambergris Element” mentioned M’Ress having played with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top used to celebrate Chanukah, at Starfleet Academy with her Jewish roommate, at least bringing The Animated Series in line with the other five shows’ mining of holiday themes.

In Foster’s novelization of “The Survivor,” Montgomery Scott attempted to design a four-dimensional Christmas tree and even spent a holiday party drawing up schematics. Excelsior: Forged in Fire noted that Hikaru Sulu’s family observed Christmas when he was growing up. In Slings and Arrows: That Sleep of Death, Beverly Crusher staged a production of A Christmas Carol starring Reg Barclay and Will Riker. Strange New Worlds 2016‘s “A Christmas Qarol” also adapted Dickens’ novel, with Q casting Picard as Scrooge, only for the ghosts to haunt Q instead. And Kirk gave Spock a Christmas card in The Fearful Summons that simply announced, “Happy Winter Solstice.”

On the comics front, IDW’s Assignment: Earth saw Roberta Lincoln’s lover Curtis Wellborn killed on Christmas during the Vietnam War. Of course, no Christmas discussion would be complete without “Spirit in the Sky,” issue #2 of DC Comics’ inaugural Star Trek: The Next Generation miniseries. This holiday-themed tale featured an alien species drawn like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch chasing a noncorporeal entity resembling Santa Claus. The Grinches even tried to metaphorically steal Christmas by draining the spirit’s essence, but ultimately, their hearts grew three sizes that day.

According to the comic, Picard’s crew simultaneously celebrated various cultures’ winter holidays, which all fell around the same time of year throughout the galaxy. (That makes little sense, of course, since every world would have its own holidays and different year lengths.) The ever-stuffy captain wanted nothing to do with annoying holidays and festivals, and Wesley Crusher resented having to attend a ship-wide party, whining, “It’s not like I believe in any of these ancient rituals—Christmas, Chanukah, Rethlume, or anything!” Apparently, we can add Rethlume to the long list of winter holidays, though it must be acknowledged that Picard and Wes are both humbugs.

Whether you and yours celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday—Festivus or Wookiee Life Day, perhaps, or even Rethlume—revel in the fact that throughout the galaxy, others do so as well. It’s Christmas in space, time to trek the halls and enjoy a nice bloodwine eggnog. Of course, if you have no interest in Christmas, you could always be like O’Brien, the most important man in Starfleet, and celebrate I’m Married to the Most Wonderful Woman in the Galaxy Day. (I plan to, because I am.)

Just be careful where you point that toy phaser. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

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