This story was originally published on December 22, 2020.
Confession: I don’t like Christmas that much. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been religious. Maybe it’s because social gatherings amp up my anxiety. Or maybe it’s because scientists have repeatedly and definitively proven that Halloween is cooler in every conceivable way.
That said, the past few years, I’ve gotten into Star Trek Christmas ornaments. Like, way into them. Each fall, I scan eBay for Hallmark’s Trek-themed Keepsake ornaments, jumping at the chance to score a tiny U.S.S. Voyager or a diminutive Defiant. It’s become this whole weird thing, and now I have so many yuletide starships that my girlfriend’s Christmas tree looks like it’s been invaded by a particularly festive Starfleet armada.
She’s confused by this, but not as confused as I am. As someone whose holiday mood is generally “Scrooge, if Scrooge was also a Vulcan,” I’m the last person who should be getting all excited about hanging chunks of plastic on a tree. Even if those chunks of plastic look like spaceships.
And there are a lot of plastic spaceships out there. Hallmark started making Trek ornaments in 1991, and the first — a model of Kirk’s Enterprise, complete with blinking lights — was followed a year later with a Shuttlecraft Galileo that boasted a audio clip from Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. These days, Trek ornaments include character likenesses and recreations of scenes from episodes and movies; 2020’s offerings are Mirror Universe themed.
(Wait. Does the Mirror Universe have Christmas? Is it... the Antichrist-mas?)
But I’m partial to the ornaments inspired by Trek’s starships, many of which have been skillfully crafted by one dedicated artist, longtime Trek fan Lynn Norton.
“I consider the ships I have sculpted to be like characters rather than objects,” Norton told StarTrek.com in 2015. “Each is recognizable, and almost as specific as a human face. I’m looking at them as a fan, of course—I’ve been watching since the first broadcast—but also as a sculptor who appreciates their beauty and qualities as icons.”
(Yeah, that’s a good quote. But according to the exhaustive Hallmark Star Trek Ornaments blog, Norton had an even better one in 2007: “I’d like nothing better than to sculpt starship ornaments until my fingers fall off.”)
Norton’s work has graced countless Christmas trees, but Trek ornaments have also turned up somewhere else: in Star Trek itself. Not only have Trek ornaments served as props in two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager (“Prophecy” and “Friendship One”), but they were also used as background models for special-effects shots in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “The Way of the Warrior.”
Hey, neat! Now you know some obscure Trek trivia! And a surprisingly metal quote about Hallmark Keepsake ornaments and fingers falling off! But that doesn’t explain why I—a Vulcan Scrooge who’s immune to the annual avalanche of clichéd Christmas kitsch—apparently love Star Trek ornaments so damn much.
At least in part, it’s because of what Trek means to me. Over all its decades and iterations, Trek has transcended its origins as a 1960s TV show to become part of people’s lives. For many, the hallways and bridges of Trek’s starships can feel like home, just as Trek’s characters can serve as everything from companions to role models. A college friend of mine who grew up in the rural West — on a farm far from other kids’ houses — recently introduced his young daughter to Star Trek: The Next Generation. But this wasn’t just another TV show, he told her — this was her chance to meet the characters he considered his childhood friends.
The holidays — once we shove aside the clichéd kitsch — are supposed to be a time to celebrate family, and friends, and memories that are important to us. So it makes sense that some of us want Star Trek to be part of that, too.
For me, a plastic Enterprise-D — its yellow LED blinking as it hangs crookedly from the branch of a Christmas tree — isn’t just some toy spaceship I snagged on eBay for a few bucks. It’s something that reminds me of characters and stories that have brought me joy, and of the real-life relationships that have been strengthened by a shared love of those stories — from my college buddy, to my sister who texts me each week about Discovery’s latest twist. Even my Klingon Bird of Prey ornament — dangling not-so-menacingly from a string of lights, looking like it’s about to open fire on an innocent candy cane — is a reminder of the stories that we rely on to keep us going through hard times.
And you know what’s basically the definition of a hard time? 2020! All of it! The whole ugly, inane, needlessly tragic thing! As we crawl toward the end of this year—this long, dark, cruel year—it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the people and stories that helped us make it through.
Strangely enough, hanging chunks of plastic on a tree helps with that. Especially if those chunks of plastic look like spaceships. Star Trek ornaments, it turns out, can provide a bit of peace and comfort — and this year, even a bit of peace and comfort feels like a big deal.
Erik Henriksen (he/him) is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. He can be found at henriksenactual.com and @erik_henriksen.