A TV yule log becomes a city Christmas tradition

Channel11logoIn 1966, WPIX Channel 11 came up with a brilliant idea: film a yule log burning in a fireplace and run the footage on Christmas Eve.

The point was to treat viewers who didn’t have a fireplace to the warm glow of a fire—and give station employees a little time off.

So a camera crew set up shop beside a fireplace in Gracie Mansion, then occupied by Mayor John Lindsay, lit a log, and let it flicker.

“A 17-second image of the fire there was repeatedly spliced together until it was three hours long,” a 2011 New York Daily News article reported. Christmas classics were selected to play in the background.

Yulelogscreenshot

On Christmas Eve 1966, the Yule Log ran at 9:30 pm—and was a surprise hit. It aired every year until 1970, when the 16 mm footage wore out. So the station shot a new yule log—not at Gracie Mansion (Mayor Lindsay refused to give them permission after the 1966 camera crew accidentally set a rug on fire), but in a house in California with a similar hearth.

The Yule Log ran yearly until 1989. It was brought back in 2001 to help the city deal with 9/11, earning a new audience and its own fan website.

It’s been shown every Christmas since and scores big ratings. Catch this New York holiday tradition from 9 to 1 p.m. on December 25. Or get into the Christmas spirit by watching the log anytime here.

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11 Responses to “A TV yule log becomes a city Christmas tradition”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    It was fun to watch the Yule log burning years ago, was very peaceful. Now I watch what?…The Honeymooners or Twilight Zone or some absurd but still funny Christmas Story. Sure miss the days when the Yule log was the only fun thing to look at and be entertained by on the 7 or 8 channels out of 13, sigh :( Now there’s a few 100 channels and what the hell for? Merry Xmas, Ho Ho Ho! Bah, humbug!

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I still get a kick out of the Odd Couple marathon…is that New Years?

  3. petey Says:

    yes, we had the yule log on when i was growing up.
    now the wife insists on watching “A Christams Story”: which has a new york connection too since it was written by jean shepherd.

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    When I was younger my kid brother was acquainted with Jean Shepherd who was a Ham, a radio operator, who lived in the Village and had huge antennas up on his roof. In God We Trust was the title of his book on which Christmas Story is based, I know my brother got an autographed copy of the book but I have no idea what happened to it. Should find out.

  5. JC Frank Says:

    Don’t forget March of the Wooden Soldiers as well, which has to been on as long as the log.

  6. Pinball29 Says:

    Once the greed-meisters figure out a way to insert commercials into a burning log, it will return. It was always wonderful, back when money didnt dictate the terms of absolutely everything. Changing it to Christmas morning is not ‘bringing it back’.

  7. EV Grieve Etc.: Mourning Edition « NYC Real Estate News Says:

    [...] NYC’s TV yule log tradition (Ephemeral New York) [...]

  8. Big Sis Says:

    It’s on YouTube…isn’t it?

  9. ledamato Says:

    I was one of those kids watching the yule log in the 60’s and 70’s in our apartment in Brooklyn, dreaming of having a fireplace, a chimney, a backyard, a lawn, etc. It’s what I think about when I light a fire in my grown-up hearth here in Virginia. Thanks for the memory!

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