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.
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.