After castrating his own father and taking over the world with his brothers and sisters, Cronus decided to marry his sister Rhea as all good royalty is supposed to do. Well once he heard that she was going to have a kid, realized that he had to worry about the prophecy his father gargled out from his death throes. That prophecy being that as usual history would repeat itself and that Cronus would be taken out by his own offspring. Unwilling to accept fate (a recurring theme in Greek Mythology), Cronus decided the best course of action to stop this would be to devour his children as soon as they were born.
This worked for five kids, but Rhea got fed up for sacrificing her children to her husband and their mother, Gaea, was pretty angry that Cronus had not fulfilled his end of the bargain in releasing his brothers from the hellish domains of Tartarus. So she gave Rhea a rock dressed in swaddling cloth and probably wearing Groucho Marx glasses and when the time came, she gave Cronus the rock baby and hid her child to grow up in a cave in Crete with a nymph, a troop of loud soldiers, and a magical goat.
When the child named Zeus grew up he came to his father's palace on Mt. Othrys in an old man disguise (though since Cronus never thought his son escaped his stomach, why would he need a disguise) and was able to drug his father with a powerful Ipecac that caused him to vomit all the 5 children (and a fake rock child) that had lived and grew up in their father's gut. Cronus, immediately seeing that his father's propecy was coming true, summoned his Titan allies and attacked his children. Unable to fight back, Zeus led his brothers and sisters out of the palace to reorganize and prepare for war.
Hmmm father is right about one thing at least, mountain tops are the best place to plop down a palace
Now that we are all caught up lets setup the players on this game of Divine Risk. On one side you had the establishment led by the Mad Titan himself
On the side of these Olympians (which you got to wonder why the Titans weren't called Othryians) you had their brave young commander Zeus who commanded his 5 siblings: Hera, Demeter, Hestia, Poseidon, and Hades, along with the titans Prometheus (whose whole deal is that he's foresighted), Epimetheus (who likes following whatever his brother says because he's shortsighted), and the sons of the Oceanid Clymene. Speaking of the Ocean, Oceanus decided to become Switzerland during all of this and stayed neutral for the whole war.
The battle raged on the plains of Thessaly for 10 long years (a recurring theme in Greek Mythology wars), but neither side was able to gain the edge. It was at this moment that Zeus realized that he should fulfill the promise that his father gave to his grandmother. But to do that, Zeus would have to go to the pits of hell itself.
Modern recreation of what Zeus sent to Cronus' doorstep
In the realm of Tartarus there was a giant prison that housed the odd sons of Gaea and Ouranos. You had the original Cyclops, three gigantic brothers with only one eye and the bizarre Hekatonkheires, another trio of three gigantic brothers except this time they had 100 hands and 50 heads. Cronus was not dumb though in leaving this prison unguarded, the jailkeeper that prevented Zeus from freeing them was a dragon-woman that was known as the "nymph of Tartarus".
She was Campe, the most loyal servant Cronus and merely calling her a half woman half dragon is doing a great disservice to the people who came up with the design of this monster (which probably ended up in both a pulp Conan the Barbarian rip off dime novel and a cheap D&D knockoff tabletop game). Yes her torso and head was that of a beautiful woman and the lower body of a classic reptilian dragon, but she also had the tail of a scorpion, snakes around her ankles, black wings on her back, fingernails that were like sickles, and oh 50 HEADS OF VARIOUS ANIMALS BUBBLING AROUND HER WAIST!!! She was basically a Chimera on steroids and this doesn't even account for the fact that she either duel wielded scimitars or carried a scythe. This abomination would be a tough opponent for Zeus to kill if he wanted to free his uncles to help him in his cause.
Now I wish there was some epic story about how Zeus was able to kill the warden of this prison by either intelligent or creative means, but nope apparently Zeus was just strong enough to kill Campe and release his uncles. With that disappointment comes with some great payoff though since now we get to the turning point of this war. For you see despite having one eye, it turns out the cyclops were really good craftsmen and for freeing them, they gave Zeus his mighty thunderbolts which made an already OP god even more overpowered (with no mods to nerf him even!!!). They also gave Hades his helm of invisibility and the bident which was the less popular version of a multi-pronged weapon because the cyclops brothers gave Poseidon his famous Earthquake causing Trident. (Another reoccurring theme about Greek Mythology is how miserable Hades becomes) Now with these weapons and allies, the Olympians stormed the plains of Thessaly for one last battle with their father's forces to defeat the tyrant.
Goddamn lightning spamming son of a bitch!!!
The final battle involved much throwing of lightning bolts and earthquakes and much chaos so it was a good thing that human civilization didn't exist yet (humanity wasn't invented at this point). But it was even these natural phenomena that humans would have to worry about. Because when you are gigantic and have 100 hands, it becomes really easy to rip off mountains from their base and just chuck it at your enemies who left you to rot in a flaming prison for what probably felt like eons. And boy did those hundred handers get tired from all their mountain throwing, which ultimately was the other deciding factor in the Olympian victory.
Finally after 10 years of hard fighting, the Olympians had fulfilled the prophecy of their grandfather, Cronus was dispose from his throne and was no longer in charge of the cosmos. No the world belong to the 6 Olympians. In the aftermath some of the titans found themselves in the same cells that the hundred-handers and cyclops found themselves in when they were shoved back into their mother by their sky father all those years ago. And like before Gaea wasn't pleased and had already begun scheming to take down her grandsons and granddaughters from power. Proving once again how much history repeats itself in a vicious cycle of violence and revolution in Greek Mythology (And sadly real life too).
But what became of Cronus? Well some sources say he died like his father (even also castrated by his son to add to the irony and parallels), others say he was stuffed down into Tartarus, but going back to the beginning of how all this relates to Christmas? Well here's how the Romans thought it went down.
Legal gambling allowed everywhere, why couldn't Christmas take that?!!!
So when the Romans did what they did best in cultural assimilation, they combined the Greek titan Cronus with their local god Saturn who was the father of the Roman version of Zeus, Jupiter. He was seen as an agricultural god and when he ruled over the earth it was a Golden Age of bounty and peace. So revered was Saturn that he was the first god of the capitol and his temple in Rome housed the State Treasury. Anyway, his feast day was on the 17 of December, but what's important is that it was extended through Dec 23 which is fairly close to December 25 which is Christmas. Now lets get to the festivities.
On the first day of Saturnalia, there was the typical big sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Forum of Rome, all the rituals were performed and everything was basically shutdown like holidays in modern times. The Senate was dismissed, schools were closed, couldn't hold a trial, couldn't declare war. This was a holiday of trying to recreate the Golden Age Saturn oversaw where man was all equal and there was no war and food a plenty.
After the public sacrifice, a lot of the more famous aspects of the holiday were private. The most famous of these being the role reversal between masters and their slaves. Now of course this depended on what kind of master you had, but Roman slavery was not nearly as bad as Antebellum Southern slavery of the 19th century (except if you were a mine slave then you were soooo screwed and only a year at best of living). The reason why slaves were treated pretty nicely compared to the standards set by other slave keeping societies is because the Roman elite were pretty terrified about slaves revolting and killing them in their sleep (Remember that Spartacus guy with the cool TV show and classic Kubrick movie? Yeah that he led an army of slaves and gladiators that tore a lot of shit up).
On the holiday, there are many accounts of the slaves being served food by their masters (or eating first or just eating with your masters). The slaves still had to make the food though. Another thing that was allowed was free speech meaning that your slaves could talk about how much you were an asshole you were without getting punished (punishment towards slaves was also not allowed on the holiday), which is why the Roman poet Horace called it "December Liberty".
Now you are probably wondering "Zach what does this have to do with Christmas though?" Well here is the biggest influence that Saturnalia probably had on the Christmas holiday (unfortunately not legalized dice gambling which was also prohibited and disliked in Rome). Actually there are two things because I forgot about the tacky clothes that the Romans would wear instead of the toga (which no one liked to wear). The other thing that is a main influence to Christmas though is the gift giving which occurred on December 19th.
People would receive sigillaria which was pottery and wax figures meant to signify the importance of the day, along with stuff like candles. Though it was not all boring stuff like that, gag gifts were actually a thing and Emperor Augustus, yes the adopted son of Julius goddamn Caesar was fond of what today might be fake vomit. Kids received toys for Saturnalia because even back in ancient times kids had toys to play with.
Another Roman Poet, Martial, actually described what was also given as gifts for the holidays: writing tablets, dice, knucklebones, moneyboxes, combs, toothpicks, a hat, a hunting knife, an axe, various lamps, balls, perfumes, pipes, a pig, a sausage, a parrot, tables, cups, spoons, items of clothing, statues, masks, books, and pets. He also brought up that exotic animals and slaves were gifted to people, but noted that lower token gifts often showed a higher value of friendship. Another thing to note about gift giving was the importance that Patrons showed to their poorer/less fortunate clients was giving them some money so that they could buy gifts.
There were even proto-gift cards during this time, with gifts often having writing (often poems) on them. One of my personal favorites is the book of bad poems that my favorite Roman poet, Catallus, (seriously look up Catallus 16 its really funny how petty Romans could be to people that slighted/betrayed them) received which had the "the worst poet of all time" written on it as a joke from a friend.
But if you need anymore proof that Saturnalia had an influence on Christmas you should know that rampant overeating and drunkenness became the rule, and a sober person the exception. And if that doesn't perfectly describe a Christmas party then I don't know what party I was at two nights ago. Happy holidays.