Gary Gygax explains why Christians shouldn't celebrate Christmas

Gary Gygax, co-inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, published this note explaining why Christians (like him) shouldn't celebrate Christmas.

A note from Gary Gygax in the IFW Monthly of February 1969. A topical historical curiosity, yes, but what does it tell us about who Gary was back then? First of all, he strongly self-identified as a Christian, an important counterpoint to the fundamentalist backlash against his later fantasy-themed games. Gary approached Christianity as a system with rules, which he researched and explored through a strict historical lens. If his readings differed from mainstream conventions, he was never one to bow to popular opinion. Sometimes he took things too seriously, sacrificing fun for accuracy. He was never shy about sharing his ideas and defending his position in public, but respectfully acknowledges the existence of dissenting views. These are all qualities we see reflected in his subsequent career as a game designer.

Gary Gygax on Christmas and Christianity [Jon Peterson/Playing at the World]


99 Responses to “Gary Gygax explains why Christians shouldn't celebrate Christmas”

  1. jimkirk says:

    So now the Bible is waging a “War on Christmas”…

    • That_Anonymous_Coward says:

      One can only hope that the new front of their war will get them to stop inflicting themselves on everyone else.

    • Robert Ivey says:

       It always has.

      Christmas is a myth and not a real holiday.
      Jesus was born somewhere in July or Augest according to Historical records.
      Basically people took Pagan Holidays and coopted them for christianity its a really common thing.
      Real Christians would know this…

      • edkedz says:

         These all sound more like reasons in favour of celebrating Christmas to me…

      •  I always thought Jesus was born in June. At least according to that whole planetary alignment that occurred around his birth.

      • David Weafer says:

        Just to clarify, there are several guesses about when he would have been born about then based on various things in the gospels, such as when Zacharias was visited by an angel, when the census of Quirinus took place, when they were likely to travel for a Jewish holiday, etc. These details could place it anytime from spring to late fall, depending on which you choose. Both the year and date are guesses, which the gospels contradict themselves about.

        There are no historical records of his birth, or existence, outside the gospels. Josephus’ descriptions were added in the 4th Century by Bishop Eusebius, and called out by other Christians at the time as fake, as well as not being in any earlier copies. All other sources describe the existence of Christians and their beliefs later. That there was a historical inspiration for the story of Jesus is quite likely, but not confirmed outside gospels written by people who never met Jesus, but were relaying stories about him.

        • Jon Peterson says:

          You don’t consider this an historical record?

          • David Weafer says:

            I do, but as a record it only dismissively describes what Christians believed, it doesn’t confirm that Jesus was a historical figure.

            The passage says “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition.”

            First we can’t ignore that he directly called this torture account “a superstition”. Not the son of God claims, but the actual death. You can of course interpret it to mean that only the supernatural parts are superstition, but that’s not confirmed in the plain language. Even if he believed it happened, he is describing the beliefs of Christians, not confirming what actually happened. The defense of this passage is usually that Tacitus wouldn’t have written even that brief note without confirming it true. But this is a false assumption propagated by apologists and historians used to defending the historicity of Christ. Tacitus makes other similarly confident but wrong claims based on rumor in his work. It’s hard to claim him a perfect fact-checker, when even in that passage he gets the rank of Pontious Pilatus, a well know prefect, incorrect.

            Again, it’s always possible that Tacitus had reason to know Jesus was a real historical figure, but that’s not confirmed in the passage, and it raises questions as to how all the Hebrew and other writers of the time covering religious movements and messiahs in Jerusalem could have missed Jesus, and early Christians like Origen could debate and defend the claims without being able to cite evidence, while a Roman who was born long after his life has reliable evidence. Far more likely is that Tacitus is simply describing their beliefs with contempt, not confirming it through records. 

            That early Christians believed he was real and magic isn’t disputed, only to correctly note that we can’t say with certainty any details of his life, when the only sources we have are unreliable, make outlandish and provably false claims, and were written by people who never met Jesus but based on oral tradition. At best we can look at the parts the Gospels are consistent about, don’t reflect the Greek beliefs of the later Gospel writers, and aren’t disproven, and suggest that’s more likely to be what he was like.

          • Tacitus wasn’t even born until 58 CE, and his report comes from an 11th century manuscript that supposedly repeats what Tacitus wrote in his Annals, no originals of which remain. So, as historical record goes, it’s a little thin.

    • BillStewart2012 says:

      The Bible doesn’t take a position for or against celebrating Christmas, and St. Paul said that some people think some days are special and he’s ok with that even though they’re really all the same. 

      But the Puritans?  They were really against Christmas, and Cromwell banned celebrating it in England.  Partly they were against the leftover Catholicism of Mass and of the holiday in general, and partly they were against anybody having Fun, especially 12 days of partying and drinking.

  2. Idle Tuesday says:

    Roll a save versus Grinchiness.

  3. Stuart Broz says:


    What? Now I need a d5?

  4. fergus1948 says:

    Is that Gary ‘Grinch’ Gygax?

    (And by the way, us non-Christians never forced the Christians to join in with our pagan Yule winter festival but, you know, everyone welcome.)

    Season’s Greetings to all!

    • Andrew Singleton says:

      Though I do not worship as you do… who am I to refuse the food? Besides, proper example of inclusivness and invitation and all. No need to be a grouch.

    • C W says:

      “us non-Christians never forced the Christians to join in with our pagan Yule winter festival”

      Not to feed into the fundamentalist persecution complex, but I doubt that all pagans were as kind and free-spirited as the neopagans would have us believe :)

  5. Boundegar says:

    Very interesting.  I was a fan way back in the 70s, and I had no clue he ever thought of himself as a Christian.  I wonder how he responded to Evangelical groups that denounced D&D as satanic and blamed it for every suicide and school shooting – this was back before video games caused all violence.

    EDIT: Merry Christmas!

  6. Mordicai says:

    SUCH a Rule’s Lawyer, & of COURSE he directs people to reference the sourcebooks!

  7. Rob O'Daniel says:

    Most of these are also cited as reasons for which Jehovah’s Witnesses denounce Christmas.

  8. Call me anal, but I have a hard time putting credence in someone who uses “either/nor”.

  9. I’d find this deliciously ironic if I didn’t actually see the pain suffered by my friends whose beliefs drove them to literally burn their D+D gear.

  10. Ashen Victor says:

    He is the supreme Dungeon Master, you cant argue with him!

    • Marc Mielke says:

      Meh. He’s not even the best module writer. Gygax’s stuff was always the shit that was so fiddly as to be unplayable. He might have started the industry, but the best work was done by later folks like Greg Costikyan, Aaron Allston, Mark Rein*Hagen…

  11. Ian G says:

    In order for this to be acknowledged by conservatives, we have to find a way to link this to Obama… 3, 2, 1….. IT’S LEGIT!!! 

  12. ryane says:

    Wizards of the Coast has Santa’s character sheet…

  13. Eric Rucker says:

    Never mind that Christianity is bad fanfic set in Judaism’s ‘verse, with Pagan gods as characters, not so subtly hidden as “the Holy Trinity”.

    (And, I chose terms related to fiction for a reason – while I’m essentially agnostic, the Abrahamic religions can be disproven.)

  14. robcat2075 says:

    I can’t help but wonder if these people would force us to drop ALL pagan rituals that persist today, like elections and the secret ballot and democracy.  Invented by pagans and not approved in the Bible. 

    • Robert Drop says:

      Oh boy – you haven’t seen those guys insisting that our laws and system of government are really derived from the ten commandments?  (No, I don’t know how that’s supposed to work, since they contradict each other, if anything.)

  15. retepslluerb says:

    Funny how he apparently hasn’t any problem with all the pagan stuff, like Christ being a son of a god, born by a maiden, who gets resurrected after death. 

  16. plyx says:

    Everybody knows it’s the Annunaki gods we should be worshipping anyway.

  17. Jonathan Roberts says:

    If you’re going to be orthodox about it, Easter should always be the biggest celebration of the year. If you’re a Protestant, there’s plenty of precedent for ignoring Christmas or even banning it if you have that sort of power.

  18. CLamb says:

    Christians began celebrating Christmas when Christianity expanded into regions where a mid-winter festival was widely celebrated.  Christmas was intended to replace the pagan feast.  The thinking behind this is that all people have a natural yearning to worship God.  In the absence of divine revelation they just made up feasts and deities as best they could.  Once they were evangelized these feasts were modified, whenever possible, in light of revelation.  There is no requirement that a person’s birthday be celebrated when the earth is in the same position about the sun as when he/she was born.  The mid-winter’s feast was chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth because it was already being used to celebrate the re-birth of the sun.  Once the people’s learned about the true God they simply swapped the object of their worship.

    • CH says:

      This is written sarcastically, right? Right??? Natural yearning to worship God? Made up feasts and deities? Learn about the true God?

      Please tell me my otherwise handy dandy Sarcast-O-Meter is broken!!!! Because it’s telling me it’s not written as sarcasm.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Once the people’s learned about the true God they simply swapped the object of their worship.

      You mean that they continued worshiping the sun, but they started calling it Jesus.

      • Aargh-a-Knot says:

        Yes! Once you see the parables, it’s all a really fascinating story of celestial events. Seeing that, how could you believe it was word for word historical events?

    • Jon Peterson says:

      I think it’s much more like the way that Christian missionaries in Northern Europe would cut down the sacred trees worshiped by the local pagans and use the wood to make churches. Or the way any number of local deities and heroes were converted into saints (St. George and the Dragon is a great example). If you want to supplant an existing religion, you can’t just provide an alternative, you have to “embrace and expand,” deliberately subsume and blot out all of its trappings. You schedule holidays against pagan feasts in order to prevent the observance of the old ways.

  19. Reggae singers and dungeon masters agree:

  20. cepson says:

    We could also mention that the nativity story appears to have been appended onto the original Gospel narrative. It only appears in two of the Gospels and the two accounts are not consistent. The story of the man Jesus and his mission pretty much starts up when he is baptized by John the Baptist and continues until he is executed and, if you’re a true believer, he is resurrected from the dead. But the nativity story is so contrived and contrary to historical fact (there’s no historical basis for an empire-wide census that required people to return to their ancestral homes around 1 A.D., for example, nor is there any evidence of a massacre of infants around that time) that it is almost certainly made up long after the fact for dogmatic purposes, or else adapted from some other, pre-existing story.

  21. Cornan says:

     What I’ve always wanted to know is why, if he’s returning to his home town for the census, Joseph and his pregnant wife had to crash in a barn rather than with a relative. I mean, cousin Jacob couldn’t find room at his place for you and YOUR PREGNANT WIFE? Seriously?

    Or, hell, if none of the family lives there anymore then maybe you can go in together on an INN so you can all visit and catch up with Aunt Ruth? Maybe? No? Ok, sleep with the pigs then. Makes perfect sense.

    • cameronhorsburgh says:

      Actually, we’re really badly served by translations for the Bible, and even more modern ones which should know better seem to follow the KJV’s wording.

      Bethlehem likely didn’t have an ‘inn’ as in a first century version of a hotel. Rather, Joseph would ordinarily have expected to stay in the guest room (or general purpose living area) at cousin Jacob’s. The KJV translated this word as ‘inn’ and everyone else has followed suit since.

      Also, the manger wouldn’t have been a stall in the stable out the back. Rather, it would have been a raised floor in a room of the house reserved for animals, and where humans probably would have slept in the colder winter months. If there were a lot of guests (if, for instance, the whole family had come home for the census) it would have made perfect sense to put Mary and Joseph in that part of the house.

  22. Mitch_M says:

    We needed a festive occasion in the middle of winter and Festivus was not invented yet. The timing and accoutrements were borrowed from other religions but the fact that it celebrates the birth of Christ makes it Christian.I was fascinated to learn that Druze and Muslims in Lebanon celebrate Christmas.

    • Jon Peterson says:

      I think that given the syncretic and opportunistic roots of Christmas, no rational person should feel uncomfortable celebrating it, notwithstanding the Christian origins of its name. While Gary may have meant to be kind of a Grinch here, he’s making a similar argument to the one I’d make for why I put up a tree and give presents on Christmas even though you won’t find me in church.

      • CH says:

        Well… what has the tree to do with the Christian Christmas anyway? Or much anything connected with Christmas traditions? Take away all non-Christian stuff and you are left with very little. Even the Christmas presents, which story is often re-wrapped into a Christian origin, has roots from other religions.

        I do it the other way, I remove all Christian stuff from my Jul (Ok, I do have a star at the top of the tree.)

        • That_Anonymous_Coward says:

          I thought it was the Christians stealing the idea of the Hanukkah Bush…

          • CH says:

            Gah… I got to fix my Sarcast-O-Meter… I have no idea if you are serious or not. Anyway, no… that would be the other way around (oooh… I’m so stepping into a mine field here). Christmas trees as a Christian tradition was created in northern Germany, but the “why” seems to be under speculation. As most old religions in the northern Europe used evergreen trees in celebrations I would guess it sprung from that. A Christian tie in and excuse for bringing in an old religion way could be the Paradise tree used in Medieval plays that were shown during Christmas time.

            Holidays like Christmas and Easter are people continuing with their old traditions and plastering on their new religion so that nobody can call them on it. The old religions died a long time ago, in families like mine the new one has also died, but that’s no reason to throw away perfectly good traditions and customs.

          • That_Anonymous_Coward says:

            There was commentary about all of the “Christian Traditions” that were just lifted from other belief systems so they could draw more people into the fold.
            I might have stuck my tongue in my cheek and gone for 2 laughs for the price of 1.

    • BillStewart2012 says:

      It’s not all that surprising.

      Islam keeps much of Christianity, and parts of the New Testament, and considers Jesus to be a prophet, though it rejects the divinity of Jesus and few other important beliefs as well as adding many things of its own.  It also keeps much of Judaism, though of course it diverges after Abraham because it’s following Ishmael’s side of the family.  Orthodox Islam treats Christians and Jews as fellow believers in God who haven’t quite caught up with newer revelations yet (as opposed to newer branches like the Baha’i and Ahmadis, who are apostates following newer false profits.)  The Druze started as a gnostic-influenced branch of Shia Islam.

      Popular Islamic fundamentalism is a different issue; many of them end to view Christians as the enemy, partly because of the Crusades and European imperialism, but mostly because of us-vs-them-ism.  (This can lead to obvious violations of Islam like the Malaysians banning Christians from using the word “Allah” to refer to God, even though it’s just the Arabic word for “God” and they believe they’re worshipping the same god.) 

  23. Avram Grumer says:

    I was hoping for a d12 Christmas Encounter Table. “9. 2d6 Lords a-Leaping. As Fighting Men of the 9th level, with special ability to jump up to 30′ vertically, and descend from same height without damage.”

  24. Sean Breakey says:

    Let’s just go back to calling it Yule.  Most of the traditions we associate with the break out (northern european) Christmas were stolen from Yule.  We can turn it into a tradition instead of a religious festival, and be able to have all of the Christmas things, (except the manger).  We wouldn’t need to worry about the “War on Christmas” anymore, we won’t have the vapid and insulting Happy Holidays, (Merry Christmas is the speaker celebrating a religious festival and wishing you good cheer, Happy Holidays assumes that your religion has a Holiday at the same time and similar importance; MOST OF THE MAJOR RELIGIONS DON’T).  Not to mention that modern Christmas has become insulting to Christians as it is.

    I’m really getting tired of the halfism a number of cities are trying to do, (have christmas traditions and decorations without the christmas part, like having christmas lights in every colour but red and green, mossy animals, polar bears, etc).

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      What do red and green have to do with Jesus?

      • Sean Breakey says:

        Again, nothing, but Red and Green are the colours most associated with Christmas, and a number of cities use every colour but for their “holiday decorations”, because if they use Red and Green they’ll be accused of celebrating a religious holiday.  Red and Green most likely come from Yule, but have been picked up by what we call Christmas.

    • I realized this year that what you’re proposing is already happening. The name will live on, but in a hundred years the nativity scene will be a weird point of trivia.

      • Sean Breakey says:

        I like the Invader Zim take on it, where the Christ part of Christmas is completely forgotten, and they believe it’s Santa Claus who will have a second coming to bring world peace and a new kingdom.

        But as long as the name Christ is attached to it, we won’t be able to celebrate it in public, (as in public land, public buildings).  The smarmy BS will continue, and it will slip further and further into nothing more then an exercise in crash commercialism.

  25. AnonymousViewer says:

    So Christians who are following a system built on a previous belief system hold it against other Christians for following holidays based on previous belief systems? It’s from another game, but I need to make a SAN roll.

  26. jhertzli says:

    This is in strict accordance with Jeremiah 10:2–5. I’m sure Sheldon Cooper’s mother insisted that he had to learn those verses.

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