The Nexus and Victorian-era clad families aside, Star Trek doesn’t really celebrate the holidays in-universe, but there are certain episodes I love to watch when the holiday season rolls around. After all, the franchise is often about found families. These crews head out into space for months, sometimes years, and have little contact with home. That means that they bond with the people aboard their ship (or in the case of Deep Space Nine, their space station) and, in essence, these people become their families. We get to see these characters work out their issues, frustrations, long-seated resentments, and more among their colleagues, which brings them together. And it’s even more of a treat when their biological family members appear, raise old insecurities, and just generally mess up these carefully crafted personas.
Luckily, there are plenty of family-centered episodes to choose from in every iteration of Star Trek. If you don’t have your own list of favorite “holiday” episodes to watch, I have some suggestions. This is by no means comprehensive, just a list of personal favorites.
One of my favorite episodes of The Original Series, “Journey to Babel” introduces us to Spock’s family and gives us a new perspective on the mysterious Vulcan. Spock is easily one of the most beloved characters of this series, so it’s incredibly interesting to witness his fractured relationship with his father and see them come to terms over the course of the episode. I also find that I now love to pair this episode with Star Trek: Discovery’s “If Memory Serves,” which provides more fascinating insight into the complex dynamics between Amanda, Sarek, and Spock.
This much-loved episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation features an ostensibly “normal” day aboard the Enterprise — and features the wedding of Keiko and Miles O’Brien. I love seeing Data take his role of giving away the bride so seriously, and it’s one of the gems of Data trying to understand human relationships. The scene between Beverly and Data, when she tries to teach him to dance, is legendary and heartwarming, and of course this is also the first time we meet Spot, Data’s cat.
A bit more serious than many of the other episodes on this list, “Family” is still an incredible episode to watch. It’s best paired with one of the franchise’s most famous two-parter, “The Best of Both Worlds,” as “Family” features Jean-Luc grappling with the repercussions of his Borg assimilation. In the upcoming Star Trek: Picard, Jean-Luc appears to have returned to his family vineyards, making it a great time to rewatch this classic episode.
This is one of the most beautiful episodes of the franchise, and features Jean-Luc living an entirely new life with children and his children’s children after he comes in contact with an alien probe. It’s rare that a simple melody is enough to bring about tears, but that’s just what “The Inner Light” does to many fans. It’s especially poignant because it gives Picard the family he never had, the kind of life he could have had if he hadn’t chosen Starfleet.
In the history of television, there are few father/son relationships as poignant and well-done as Benjamin and Jake Sisko. And there are pretty much zero episodes of television that make me cry as much and as reliably as the fourth-season stunner “The Visitor,” an episode I feel is hugely underrated. This episode features the unbreakable bond between Jake and Ben, and the sacrifices that Jake will make to keep his father in his life. It’s shattering and heartbreaking and is the best kind of television.
Deep Space Nine features my favorite found family because these characters are so different. The other series feature Starfleet officers who, for all their differences, came up through similar types of schooling and training. The crew aboard Deep Space Nine has to work much, much harder in order to become family, and it makes it that much more rewarding when they finally do. “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” is a personal favorite, and it allows the crew to let their hair down and just be silly, which is especially important in a time of war.
So much of Voyager’s central plot is dedicated around the crew getting home from the Delta Quadrant, but this episode shows us what happens after one of those risky maneuvers goes awry. It’s especially thoughtful to see what it does to young, eager Harry Kim to lose his found family and hold himself responsible for it. I absolutely love just how much it makes clear Chakotay and Harry will sacrifice anything for their crew, and the lovely cameo from LeVar Burton (who also directed the episode) as Geordi LaForge, telling them that he very much understands their dedication.
There is no found family quite like the Maquis, and that becomes evident again and again in Star Trek: Voyager, especially through B’Elanna Torres, who has a bad relationship with both her parents and makes up for it through the family she’s chosen. She’s my favorite character, and I think “Barge of the Dead,” in which she comes to terms with her biological mother and which also showcases the amazing mother/daughter dynamic she has with Captain Kathryn Janeway, is an integral and underrated part of the show.
After the action-packed storyline of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, this quieter episode that focused on characters was more than welcome. The real highlight here is the focus on T’Pol and Trip, two characters who are best served when they’re getting to know (and fall in love with) with one another. This episode represents a real milestone in their will-they-won’t-they, especially because despite what happens, it’s clear where T’Pol’s heart really lies.
The newest iteration of Star Trek has definitely leaned into the found family dynamic in its first and second seasons (who can forget Saru’s “Discovery is ours now!” and Pike’s “Goodbye my friends, my family”), but to me the episode that jumps out most as family-centered is the time loop one from the first season. “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is where the crew really started feeling like — and looking at each other as — family, which makes it a joy to watch from beginning to end.
Swapna Krishna (she/her) writes about tech, science, and sci-fi. She’s a contributing editor at SYFY FANGRRLS and has been published at Engadget, Gizmodo, Mental Floss, the Los Angeles Times, and more. You can find her on Twitter @skrishna.