Of the contested origin of Jól, one likely connection is to Old Norse Hjól, 'wheel,' to identify the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowpoint, ready to rise again. Other linguists suggest that the connection is fortuitous, and that Hjól has been inherited by Germanic and Scandinavian languages from a pre-Indo-European language level. What is certain is that Yule celebrations at the winter solstice predate Christianity. Though there are numerous references to Yule in the Icelandic sagas, there are few accounts of how Yule was actually celebrated, beyond the fact that it was a time for feasting. 'Yule-Joy', with dancing, continued through the Middle Ages in Iceland, but was frowned upon when the Reformation arrived.
Beltane and Samhain, one of the most popular among Neopagans. In some traditions, it commemorates the death of the Holly King (symbolizing the old year and the shortened sun) at the hands of his son and successor, the Oak King (the new year and the new sun that begins to grow). In other traditions, it is seen as the birthday of the new sun god.
A traditional ritual is a vigil from dusk to dawn, the longest night of the year, to make sure that the sun will rise again.
Yule is a revival of a Germanic festival that was Christianized as Christmas; indeed, many traditional trappings of Christmas, such as the Yule Log, holly, and the Christmas tree are derived from pre-Christian Yule celebrations. In the Scandinavian countries, Jul is the word for Christmas.
See also Wheel of the Year.
For information on Sir Henry Yule, please see Henry Yule.