When considering how the ancient yule customs were established over time, it is often thought that it was solstice or "solfest" that was the explanation of the content of the tradition. It occurs at longest and darkest nights of winter, it could be a "sun-feast" here in the pagan north, celebrating the sun's victory over the darkness, the victorious sun's birthday.
The further north one travels, the more important is the sun's power in nature and in the life of people. It is assumed that the contrast between light and darkness was what in the early times captured the imagination of people especially here in the far North.
It has among the year's changing days become something one made note of. When it looked as if the darkness had overpowered and bound the sun, then it laughed so heartily that all the brooks broke loose, and it lifted itself with the rich, warm rays to replace the darkness. Many legends and old stories point to the feasts and the happiness when the sun was again in ascendance.
For certain, one did not just celebrate the shortest day, but the midwinter-night when there were "blot-fests" in various places in Scandinavia, the great norse gods were honored and offered to. Odin, Tor and Freir were life-gods that have left such marks from the old-pagan times that even up into our own time there are remnants of it: pigs heads, ham, cakes in the shape of a pig, and the "bukk" that is reminiscent of Freir's.
The "julebukk" with his hammer and the cakes in the form of a buck are shadowy remnants of Thor's weapons and his rams. That "jul" has been interpreted as a "sun-feast" can also be found in the way the whell-cross (julkorset), the picture of the sun are drawn on houses and cakes. In some places one guided a wheel through the village streets on "julaften", that refers of course to the wheel of the sun.
This way of thinking is mighty persuasive, everything is so obvious, it is only when you consider each issue separately that the doubt lingers about solstice sunfest.
Most likely the old mysteries and traditions come closer to reality when you consider the tangled web of old pagan folklore – often very disorganized – with threads of religious christian superstitious imagery mixed in.
Did you know that certain traditions practiced up to our own time may have derived from that darkest of religious rites, human sacrifice? That beyond Christmas Day, even beyond the twelve days of Christmas, there is a whole season of traditional celebrations with many interconnections.