The Winter Solstice or Yule is the shortest day of the year, and hence – the longest night. This year it takes place on December 21st. Various other names for the Winter Solstice include Midwinter, Yuletide (the Teutonic version), Alban Arthan (Caledonii Tradition, or the Druids), Feill Fionnain (Pecti-Wita Tradition, which falls on December 22nd). Yuletide lasts from December 20th through December 31st. It begins on “Mother Night” and ends twelve days later, on “Yule Night”, hence the “Twelve Days of Christmas” tradition.
Some other names for this Sabbat used less commonly are Sun Return, Pagan New Year, Saturnalia (Roman), Great Day of the Cauldron, and Festival of Sol.
Yule is a time of the Goddess of the Cold Darkness and the birth of the Divine Child, the reborn Sun God. It is a time of renewal and rebirth during Winter and the turning of the Earth force tides. A time when the waxing Sun overcomes the waning Sun. In some traditions, this is symbolized by the struggle between the Oak King and the Holly King.
The Winter Solstice had been associated with the birth of a “Divine King” long before the rise of Christianity. Yule is about renewal, rebirth, returning hope, and life. It has never truly changed its meaning, as many of the Pagan Gods and Heroes were born at this time: Apollo, Dionysus, Horus, Mithra, etc. Jesus, Son of God/Sun God, is not alone in this time of renewal. The Christian church chose to celebrate the birth of their savior at the same time pagans celebrated a festival that focused upon the rebirth of the “Sun God.” Therefore making it the birthday of their “Son of God”. Yule and Christmas are not so very different in reality. Both celebrate the arrival of the sun/son or, as Christ has been called, the light of the world.
Emperor Aurelian established December 25th as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. Shortly thereafter, in 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman solar feast day was Christianized. January 6th, celebrated as Epiphany in Christendom and linked with the visit of the Magi, was originally an Egyptian date for the Winter Solstice.
There are many theories on how Christmas and the winter solstice/yule come to be celebrated so close together. One thing is definitely true: it is a season of light.