Do you also celebrate Christmas or some other holiday, as well as Yule? How do you mesh everything together?
Yule is one of the bigger holidays for me. The celebration started yesterday, the evening before the solstice, and will run all the way through the calendar new year. This works well for me, as my family does celebrate (a secular) Christmas, and New Year's day is also a big holiday for us, so everything ends up coming together nicely.
Yule itself is many things to me. It is the start of the winter season, which has really been starting to show this last week. It is the midpoint of the dark half of the year. It's the shortest day, and so also the longest night. It's the rebirth of the sun, will start to grow stronger again after the solstice has passed. For me, Yule also marks the beginning of the new year. I associate Yule with midnight, the new moon, north, and earth.
Today was the solstice, which again, was the shortest day of the year - which also makes tonight one of the longest nights of the year. When sun set, I lit an electric candle on my altar, which will stay lit until dawn, to keep a spark of light alive through the long night. (Electric, since I won't be awake all night this year, and don't want to leave a burning candle alone for so long.) Tomorrow the day will be just a little longer, even if just by seconds, so tomorrow morning I'll go out at dawn to welcome the reborn sun, to make offerings, and to meditate.
Then, the day after tomorrow, I go down to my Grandparents' house. It'll be time to start the Christmas baking - lots of different cookies, cakes, and a mincemeat pie for my Grandfather and I. On Christmas eve I'll probably bake and decorate cookies with my siblings. I have to admit, I still love leaving cookies and milk out for Santa. Christmas day is a big dinner with family. Locally, on Christmas day is also when the sun actually rises a bit higher in the sky.
As many pagans probably know (and even a lot of non-pagans), Christmas and Yule share a lot of overlap in symbolism. So, coming from a family that doesn't really celebrate it in a religious way, there's really no issue blending it all together.
On New Year's Eve my Grandmother and I start prepping the food for the next day. Lots of traditional Japanese foods. We all also eat lots of junk foods, play board games, and watch the NHK New Year special on my Grandmother's Japanese satellite channel. Of course we also watch the ball drop in Times Square, and have a bit of sparkling cider or champagne. It's also tradition to keep a real bayberry candlestick lit on New Year's eve, and to let it burn down totally for blessings on the home.
On New Year's Day we have our big dinner. It'll be the last day of the Yule celebrations, but the first day of 2013 - a good time to honor the ancestors, and to make offerings to Westya in thanks, and to ask for blessings on the home for the coming year.