And for the most part, he's right. Christmas was celebrated on December 25th to fall on the Winter Solstice, along with the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, where the Romans honored Saturn, father of Jupiter. In this festival, gifts were given, fancy meals were prepared, and the slaves were, to some extent, given the same rights as most other Romans. I can assume that, in the society of men, gifts were given, and since homosexual intimacy was not as frowned upon then as it was in later years, that it was common for parties to end up as such. (I have not been able to find your resource for this fact. If you could provide it, it would be appreciated.)
Jesus was not born on December 25th as most modern day Christians would believe, for the simple fact that before the reign of Caesar, the year only had 10 months. Leave it to Julius Augustus Caesar to drop his name into all of time. (and if you have read my previous blog, it is a further example of monument building by egotistical individuals). Therefore, by the old calendar, Jesus was born sometime in October, which, by their climate, would have been late summer.
There are a thousand other traditions and reasons why Christmas is a sham, borrowing ideas from cultures as it passed from culture to culture. And now that we are living in a free market system, the whole idea of Christmas has become a massive consumeristic idea where people charge their credit cards ad infinitum trying to get everything on their lists. It's become nothing but one big sale after another.
Except, when we remove all the traditions and the borrowed customs, the commercialization and the consumerism, we wind up with the simple Christmas story told by the Christian faith for generations. About the birth of Jesus in a manager in the time of Herod, of Mary and Joseph and the wise men and shepherds and angels and the star (which has been theorized that it was a supernova that happened around that time). We've whittled down to one simple fact.
Christmas is all about Belief. We can either believe that Christ was born in a manger, that he was born of a virgin, Mary, and that he was the Son of God, or we believe that it is all a lie, that it's all a figment of some authors imagination to create a new religion. There is so much skepticism in this world, so many false heroes and deception, that it's almost necessary to believe in some truth.
So I would go further than what my friend did. It's not just a day to be thankful for things, rather, it's a day to reaffirm what you believe in. And it makes little difference if it's Christmas or any of the other religious celebrations that go on, the idea is basically the same.
For Christians, the belief in Jesus, in the Christmas story, is crucial to what the religion is all about. For God extended a gift of grace (His son) to a troubled world. A reminder in the way we must act towards a troubled world today. And Jesus was born in a stall, a barn, with a feeding trough for a bed. He could have arrived with Seraphim a singin' and Cherubim a swingin', but Jesus arrived here in a manager, teaching us humility. The roots of Christianity are embedded into the story of Jesus' birth.
I could go further with this argument, but that would set off an ideological or religious discussion that would be better in another blog. All I'm saying is that, if you look at all the Christmas traditions and long held assumptions about the chronological details of Christ's birth (in other words, the unimportant stuff... does it matter when Jesus was born, as long as he was?), then you become bogged down in superficiality. The gift giving isn't really that important, and neither is the tree, the commercialization, all the material observations that make Christmas what it is. Christmas is an internal affirmation, a yearly time to stop and say, "I believe."
For other religions, I would say the same. Ramadan (Islam), or Festivus (Nature-based beliefs), or Hanukkah (Judaism), or even religions that have no special holiday around this time. There should be a day when you take a look at what you believe in and reaffirm that dedication. So that it's just not mush in your head, something to fall back on when things aren't so good. Whatever your beliefs are, it should be a building block for everything else. Christmas (or thereabouts) is a time for beginnings (as is the New Year celebrations), for starting again, strong and fresh, just as a birth would symbolize.