How A Television Show Featuring A Burning Yule Log Became A Christmas Tradition

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The Yule Log was first broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1966 (Credit: Joseph Malzone /CC BY-SA 4.0/creativecommons.org)

Christmas is all about observing beloved traditions. For some, this means attending midnight mass on Christmas eve, for others, it entails watching reruns of old classics like Elf and Home Alone. Then there are the millions for whom the holiday is incomplete without an episode of The Yule Log — a four-hour television show featuring a warm, crackling fire.

The origins of the hit show are a little hazy. Some believe that Fred Thrower, the president of New York-based television station WPIX, came up with the idea to fill a three-hour programming slot that came open after a scheduled roller derby game was canceled. Others think Thrower created the animated "Christmas card," — which featured a warm crackling fire from the Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York's mayor— to show his appreciation to the station's viewers. He believed the 17-second clip (replayed continuously) with popular Christmas hits playing in the background, would bring joy and comfort to apartment dwellers who lacked a fireplace of their own.

The Yule Log has been a beloved Christmas tradition since first airing in 1966 (Credit: MitchThrower.com)

The three-hour-long commercial-free Yule Log, which debuted on December 24, 1966, was a roaring success, one that soon became an eagerly awaited Christmas tradition. In 1970, with the original 16mm film deteriorating, WPIX filmed a second video starring a similar-looking fireplace in Palo Alto, California. Shot on 35mm film, the seven-minute-long clip made the fireplace loop less jerky than the original. The new and improved Yule Log show aired on WPIX every year on Christmas day for the next two decades. However, despite garnering top ranking in its time slot year after year, in 1989, the station's owners decided to replace the feel-good show with programming that would include revenue-generating commercials.

But avid Yule Log fans were not ready to let the WPIX cancel the revered tradition so easily. In 2000, a fan began an online petition to convince the station to bring the show back. The response was so overwhelming that WPIX decided to reinstate it the following year. It was the most-watched Christmas "special" in the Metropolitan New York Area, and a new Yule Log era was born. A few years later WPIX's parent company, Tribune Broadcasting, decided to not only air the show nationwide on Christmas morning, but also extend the broadcast time from three to four hours!

Olive Garden has released an eight-hour "Yule-style video featuring two baked pasta dishes (Credit: Olive Garden.com

Over the years, the unique Christmas special's popularity has resulted in several copycat shows on Internet streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix. This year, even American restaurant chain Olive Garden is getting into the spirit with an eight-hour-long Yule-style video that features its signature baked pasta offerings!

Those looking for a less tempting Yule Log rendition can seek out ones featuring the world's most famous cat - Lil Bub. Though the adorable feline passed away on December 1, 2019, the previously recorded videos available on YouTube of him snoozing in front of a crackling fire are sure to lift your spirits. Disney fans can enjoy one or more of the Yule Log videos the entertainment giant has produced, including an hour-long version featuring many fun Easter eggs such as a Mickey Mouse wrapping paper and the ball from Toy Story.

Happy Viewing and A Very Merry Christmas To You All!

Resources: Mashable.com, Wikipedia, com, theyulelog.com

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