Many have asked about the celebrations and traditions of Yule / Winter Solstice and I will try to answer as generically as possible. I follow a Celtic Path, with a focus on the Goddess, but not exclusively. There will be others that follow different paths - and their celebrations and histories will have variations.
Yule begins on the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This year Solstice begins at 1:35pm est on December 21, 2005. Celebrations in many homes will begin at sunset on Yule.
Yule - Winter Solstice
Typically beginning on December 20 or 21st, Yule spans twelve days ending Yule Night on December 31st. Using the Julian calendar it would occur on December 25th. Yule is the first of the solar festivals and the first Sabbat of the new year. This is also one, if not the holiest of the 8 Sabbats, depending on your Path.
The most accepted of the Celtic tales of Yule begins when the Holly King battles the Oak King in a fight to the death. The Holly King can be associated with many aspects of God. The year that has passed, or Father Time, death, or if you look at the king through nature, he can be associated with the old stallion who must fight for his position as the head of the heard. In the battle, the Holly King loses to the Oak King. Who represents the new year, the young stallion claiming his position over the heard. He is also called the Divine Child. The newborn aspect of God.
As a Pagan celebrant, it is a time for each of us to put to rest the old lessons, battles and issues that need to be released. It is a time to let go of those things that hold you back and move on into the new year with a fresh view and perspective.