Christmas has long had a special place in Star Trek. Despite the overall secular depiction of humanity in the twenty-third and twenty-fourth centuries, the characters are still shown explicitly celebrating the holiday, though its religious aspects have been downplayed.
The first time that Christmas is mentioned in Star Trek is in the first season of the original series, in the episode “Dagger of the Mind.” While preparing to beam down to the Tantalus V penal colony, Kirk and McCoy are joined by Dr. Helen Noel, whose name is appropriately on-the-nose for the revelation that she and Kirk met at the Science Department Christmas party. Christmas would not be explicitly mentioned again until Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The Next Generation episode “Devil’s Due” opens with Data performing as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” on the holodeck. Though the episode itself was not about Christmas or Christmas themes, the concepts of holograms and ghostly images terrifying people were in that episode, as an interstellar con artist posed as Ardra, a devil-like figure for an alien species prophesied to return and take control of the planet. Christmas would return once more in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in the series’ first feature film, Star Trek: Generations, when Captain Picard was presented with a fantasy scenario involving a family of his own during Christmas, complete with a Christmas tree and gifts.
While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went to great lengths to develop the religion of the Bajoran people, it had only a single reference to Christmas during its run. In the episode “Our Man Bashir,” part of the Secret Agent holoprogram that Doctor Bashir ran involved him giving a set of exploding earrings to the Soviet spy Anastasia Komananov in the program’s fictional 1963.
Star Trek: Voyager had many more references to Christmas than any other Star Trek series. In the very first episode, “Caretaker,” Tom Paris makes a reference to “A Christmas Carol” when, recalling the accident that led to his dishonorable discharge from Starfleet, sarcastically claimed that “the ghosts of those three dead officers came to me in the middle of the night and taught me the true meaning of Christmas.” In the second season episode “Death Wish,” the rogue Q known as Quinn leads the more familiar Q on a chase through time and space; at one point, he attempts to disguise Voyager as an ornament on a Christmas tree. As an appropriate bit of product placement, that year also marked the release of Hallmark’s U.S.S. Voyager ornament.
The episode “Survival Instinct” featured a more subtle reference to Christmas, with Captain Janeway remarking that the gifts from alien visitors that filled her ready room looked “like Christmas morning.” The episode “11:59,” late in the series’ run, features a series of flashbacks set two days after Christmas, on December 27, 2000. Captain Janeway’s ancestor, Shannon O’Donnell (also played by Kate Mulgrew), remarked in her journal that, while she wasn’t looking forward to New Year’s Eve, “at least Christmas [was] over.”
Christmas was not mentioned on Star Trek: Enterprise, and has yet to be mentioned on Star Trek: Discovery, and although there have been many more references to the holiday in other media, such as novels and comic books, for the scope of this article the focus has been limited to the television episodes and feature films. Star Trek has studiously avoided depicting any real religions over the decades, and that seems likely to continue. This is unfortunate, as series like Babylon 5 have shown that, done well, such depictions can add depth to characters that would otherwise go unremarked. The storyline of Susan Ivanova’s inner struggle with the pain of losing her father and the demands of her Jewish faith set against her sense of duty to her position on the station made for excellent drama and character development. One can only hope to see more of that in the future as Star Trek continues to develop as a collection of streaming series on CBS All Access.