Star Trek has a fascinating, feathered Thanksgiving Day connection

Thanksgiving Day is the perfect time to watch a classic Star Trek story.

The fourth Thursday of November is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. But wherever you live, if you’re a fan looking for Thanksgiving-themed Star Trek to watch, which of the franchise’s 800+ episodes or 13 films should you watch?

Certainly, Star Trek showcases its fair share of family gatherings around the table, arguably the holiday’s defining feature. In the Star Trek: Picard episode “Nepenthe,” for example, we saw Picard and Soji dine on bunnicorn pizza with Will Riker, Deanna Troi, and their daughter Kestra. Many long-time Trek fans loved the episode for its warm, “family reunion” feel. The welcome embrace Picard found on Nepenthe could symbolize the happy homecoming and unconditional acceptance so many people hope to experience when they travel “over the river and through the woods” at Thanksgiving.

Of course, not all families get to enjoy sweet and sentimental Thanksgiving gatherings. If you’d rather watch a Star Trek “family” dinner that takes a wrong turn, don’t miss the meal Captain Saru hosts for the senior officers of the Discovery in that series’ third-season episode, “Forget Me Not.” (If someone at your Thanksgiving table suggests a haiku contest, just say no!)

Star Trek has served up many more examples of families, biological or “found,” breaking bread together. Some turn out well—think about Geordi and Ro showing up, to everyone’s joy, for their own wake in “The Next Phase.” Some go up in flames—like the diplomatic banquet Captain Kirk and his crew host aboard the Enterprise in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

But for my quatloos, the best Star Trek story of all to watch on Thanksgiving doesn’t even feature a meal. But it is a story set on the big holiday itself—or at least its 23rd-century equivalent.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry talked turkey in this episode

In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Charlie X,” the Enterprise takes aboard young Charles Evans. Charlie’s strange, seemingly godlike (or Q-like!) powers of psychic control and matter manipulation pose an escalating threat.

Early in the episode, Charlie hears Captain Kirk tell an unidentified crew member presumably in charge of the ship’s galley, “On Earth today, it’s Thanksgiving. If the crew has to eat synthetic meat loaf, I want it to look like turkey.”

Earth is united in Star Trek’s future, but many of the nation-states we know still exist, at least in name. We don’t know whether Kirk is referring to Canadian Thanksgiving, the United States’ Thanksgiving, or perhaps—and I find this option most appealing—a global day of Thanksgiving. (Perhaps it’s the same Thanksgiving holiday Captain Sisko invites his crew to celebrate in “Blaze of Glory.”) But whatever else Thanksgiving in the 23rd century involves, it still involves turkey.

A few minutes later, shortly after Charlie has caused the destruction of the S.S. Antares, the Enterprise galley chief calls the bridge with a bizarre report: “Sir, I put meat loaf in the ovens. There’s turkeys in there now—real turkeys!” Charlie barely stifles a laugh before leaving the bridge.

As displays of Charlie’s “strange energies” go, it’s hardly the most dramatic. Viewers don’t even see it happen. But it’s memorable because the voice of the unseen crewman who calls Kirk is none other than Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, per The Star Trek Encyclopedia.

Any fan who’s ever heard Roddenberry’s voice will instantly recognize his distinctive, lilting voice.

How appropriate that the first, and still one of the few, direct references to Thanksgiving in Star Trek involves a vocal cameo from the man whose creation we continue to be thankful for 55 years later. And how amusing that “the Great Bird of the Galaxy” himself is talking about the great bird of Thanksgiving feasts everywhere!