2011-12-22 / Family

The Origins Of The Yule Log

The burning of a yule log has been a Christmas tradition in many European countries for centuries. It is believed to have originated at pagan winter solstice festivals or yule festivals among Germanic people. Eventually it turned into a Christmas tradition – one where a piece of wood is burned in the hearth, oftentimes overnight until Christmas arrives.

Even now, people who have fireplaces in their homes often participate in the yule log tradition. But for the many others who don't have a fireplace, an enterprising television executive devised a solution back in 1966. Fred M. Thrower, President and CEO of WPIX, Inc., a local television station in New York, was inspired by a commercial showing Santa Claus in front of a roaring fire. He came up with the concept of airing a continuous loop of a yule log burning so that viewers without fireplaces could enjoy the magic of the yule log with seasonal music playing in accompaniment to the mesmerizing flames. The original piece of film was a loop of only 17 seconds of film and individuals could tell it was artificial by its jerky appearance. Eventually the yule log was refilmed. Annual airing of the yule log took place up until the 1990s. But fans of the holiday staple protested and, after 11 years of being off the air, the yule log returned in 2001, a few months after the September 11th attacks. Television executives cited that people wanted “comfort food television” and restored the yule log.

The yule log is now broadcast through many WPIXaffiliates, and many other stations have done their own yule log broadcasts of different ornate fireplaces throughout North America. Some yule log performances can even be purchased on DVD as a portable yule log while traveling.

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