Here Comes the Sun
The winter solstice, also called the December Solstice, occurs exactly when the earth’s axis is titled the farthest away from the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere the sun’s daily journey in the sky is at its lowest point. Also, the sun’s noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice, which explains the origin of the word solstice, meaning “sun stands still.”
In the Northern Hemisphere this festival occurs on the shortest day or longest night of the year, in the sense that the length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this day is a minimum for the year. This marks the beginning of an astronomical winter. For Witches and Pagans it is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. The winter solstice’s date moves around year to year, anywhere between December 21 and 22. Sometimes the winter solstice will fall on December 20 and 23, but that is more rare. Like the other sabbats that occur on a solstice or equinox, the winter solstice, or Yule, is generally celebrated at the time when the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn. Following the date of the December or winter solstice, the daytime hours begin to grow longer and the nighttime hours shorter.
The pre-Christian holiday of Yule was the premier holiday in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. The Yule season, or tide, was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and gatherings while the people celebrated the light returning to the land. However, during these dark and cold days, folks were also aware and a bit afraid of the forces of the dark.
The popular name for the sabbat at the winter solstice is Yule, which comes from the Norse Jol, representing the winter solstice celebration. It is also linked to the Saxon word hweol, meaning “wheel,” similar to a German word meaning “the turning of the wheel” or “the rising of the sun wheel.” The ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice between December 17 and 24 each year in a weeklong festival called Saturnalia.
Ellen Dugan, Seasons of Witchery: Celebrating the Sabbats with the Garden Witch