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When Did the Christmas Yule Log Start on TV?

by Michael Freeman
(Photo by Veronique DURRUTY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The Christmas “Yule Log” is a longstanding Christmas tradition. Though it’s been around for more than 50 years, it’s not widely known how it even came about in the first place. So, when did the Christmas Yule Log even begin and why?

Mental Floss provided the background information on the Yule Log recently, and the story is a fascinating one. Back in 1966, Fred Thrower served as WPIX-TV Channel 11’s manager. That year, he wanted to do “something a little different and special” for Christmas Eve. On November 2, he sent a memo to all his employees saying he was thinking of canceling all programs and commercials that day. In their stead, he planned to air a WPIX Christmas Card and loop the footage of a holiday-inspired fireplace.

The concept came to fruition on December 24, 1966, when WPIX aired three hours of the 17-second loop we’ve come to know and love. WPIX filmed the fireplace at Gracie Mansion, where New York City’s mayor lived. Additionally, the television station paired the footage with classic Christmas hits to play in the background. The Yule Log became a huge ratings success, so the station decided to repeat the process. Though they occasionally replaced the footage with new fireplaces, the tradition remained.

Retro News Now also shared fun facts about the log on Twitter recently, saying sparks from the fire destroyed a $4,000 antique rug, though we don’t see that part. They also posted a clipping about the Yule Log that will really take you back to 1966.

Whether it’s real or not, there’s something about viewing a fire on Christmas.

How ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Became a Christmas Tradition

The Christmas Yule Log isn’t the only tradition having an interesting beginning. Though many of us watch It’s a Wonderful Life around this time of year, things weren’t originally looking good for the film.

The Wall Street Journal discussed the film’s humble origins, which may surprise you. Initially a box office flop, audiences didn’t care about the film at its release. Only after 30 years did the film get the recognition it has today and it’s due in large part to a copyright mistake. Because Republic Pictures forgot to refile copyright protection for the film in 1874, television stations could play it for free.

Much like George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life got a second chance and this time, it resonated with audiences. Networks often ran the film since it was free and it picked up traction, especially around Christmas. Though only NBC can now air the film, people came to love and adore it and now we often watch it during the holiday season.