Yule, also known as the Winter Solstice, starts when the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn and the temperature is at zero degrees (the beginning of energy). This is the longest night and the darkest time of the year. On the Solstice, the sun rises around 9 a.m. and sets around 3 p.m. The rebirth of the Sun is the primary focus of most Yuletide celebrations. In many traditions, the Goddess is responsible for this rebirth.
Irish Christmas traditions are similar to those found in many western countries: the basic Christmas rituals, such as gift-giving, attending Mass, and decorating trees, are shared by most nations where Christmas is celebrated. One of the main reasons for the rapid propagation of Christianity throughout Europe during the first millennium was the willingness of Christian leaders to incorporate the rituals, beliefs and customs of other religions. Few of the ancient displaced religions were more assimilated than the Druids.
Yule coincides with the Christian celebration of Christmas (the birth of Christ being very similar to the rebirth of the Sun, itself symbolic of the rebirth of the God), which is no coincidence, as the early Christian Church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ (which is actually believed to have happened in March, amongst other pointers, Shepherds don’t take their flocks out to pasture in the Middle East in winter!) at this time to try and woo the Pagan peoples away from their own faith. Many other Gods of Pre-History share similar life stories to that of the life of Jesus, including the Nativity and their birth timing of the Winter Solstice.
Alban Arthuan is one of the ancient Druidic fire festivals. Taking place on December 21st through 22nd (due to the method the Druids used to measure one day), Alban Arthuan coincides with the Winter Solstice. Translated, it means “The Light of Arthur,” in reference to the Arthurian legend that states King Arthur was born on the Winter Solstice.
The custom of burning the Yule Log, the Yule-associated tradition that is most familiar to people today, was performed to honour the Great Mother Goddess. The log would be lit on the eve of the solstice, using the remains of the log from the previous year, and would be burned for twelve hours for good luck.
Another tradition still used today is that of the Christmas tree, originating in Germany and Scandinavia, Pagan families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs so you could tell when a spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat and a five-pointed star, the pentagram, symbol of the five elements, was placed atop the tree. German Martin Luther is credited with being the first person to decorate his tree with candles, after seeing how beautiful the stars were one night, and wanting to show his children, though nowadays much safer Fairy Lights are often used.