I love televised yule logs. I’m drawn to them not only out of nostalgia (the original aired on WPIX in New York beginning in 1966), but also for the minimalist delight. As I stare at the image of a burning log for hours on end, the smallest details and changes in the scene are emphasized. In our fast-paced world, there’s inherent charm in the blandness of it all. And, reminiscent of an early Warhol film like Empire (where we fixate on a shot of the Empire State Building for hours), close examination of the yule log allows us find great pleasure in unexpected moments like someone in a Santa Suit adding wood to the fire or a piece of wood burning to embers before our eyes.
Every year I set my DVR to record all of the different iterations of yule logs being broadcast on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It’s become a family tradition to open presents while the yule log crackles on the television, accompanied by holiday music. I also save the recordings to view again on New Year’s Eve. This year I watched the five different yule logs that aired over local and satellite TV in San Francisco. In some cases stations piped in music from local and national radio stations (KOIT and K-LOVE) and in other instances, the source of the music playlist was uncredited.
I was bummed that the My Little Pony Yule Log was a one-time thing on the Hub Network in 2013, as that was an entirely new take on the tradition. In all its animated glory, the program featured flying My Little Ponies and other Hub Network characters coming in and out of the scene. It was probably the most surreal yule log that I’ve ever seen, although this year’s “Disney XD’s Yule Log” comes close.
Disney XD aired a 15-minute animated yule log this year on December 22nd (you can view an hour-long version online). Punctuated by fast-paced electronic holiday music in the style of video game music, the frenetic program zoomed in and out of a close up of an animated fireplace to show snippets of the surrounding scene. A slot machine motif featured dreidels (when all three line up, a stream of gold-covered chocolate coins spew out), a dinosaur and other characters. At one point the logs walk out of the fireplace to form a robot. We also see a hand reach out with a remote control, changing the channel, which turns the fireplace surrounding the yule log into a spaceship, igloo, cake, sphinx, pumpkin, and fish bowl. A turkey on a spit is also added to the fireplace. A latke gets thrown into the fire and someone yells “Happy Hanukkah!” Covering all the bases, we also see an animated Santa climbing up the chimney, with the burning yule log below.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Up Network (which bills itself as airing “Uplifting Entertainment”) devoted 24 hours to its yule log. Music was provided by the Christian music network K-LOVE, with song titles and artists posted on the screen. This was the only yule log that invited viewers to tweet, as one corner of the screen included the hashtag #YuleLog. In keeping with its K-LOVE affiliation, this log had the most religious vibe, with its holiday tunes by contemporary Christian artists like Chris August, Sidewalk Prophets, Mandisa, and Big Daddy Weave. The 8-hour broadcast that I recorded began with “Jingle Bell Rock” performed by the Newsboys. Although I didn’t watch the entire 8 hours that I recorded, as I scanned through it seemed that many of the artists were repeated, so the complete playlist may have been pretty short. Up’s online yule log has a different soundtrack than the one that aired on TV.
San Jose television station KICU on channel 36 also used a radio station soundtrack for its Holiday Log. The one-hour episode that I recorded on Christmas morning (it ran for 6 hours total, in one-hour increments) started at 6am with the sounds of a fire crackling and then launched into “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The close-up footage of logs burning in a fireplace featured music from local radio station KOIT and included classic Christmas songs as well as more modern takes on them by artists like Paul McCartney. The sounds of the crackling fire could be heard throughout and I also spotted Santa stoking the fire. This footage is most likely the same that’s been airing for years on KICU and was reportedly shot at a home in San Jose.
KRON channel 4 (San Francisco) presented its yule log early Christmas morning, starting at 4am. The vintage yule log footage (I’m pretty sure it’s the old WPIX yule log as it shows a fireplace with a doll hanging in the center, surrounded by stockings in the opening shot) ran for about 30 minutes and was repeated several times during the 2 hour broadcast. While a range of Christmas songs play (from Frank Sinatra to Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, to music from the Nutcracker), ads for a furniture store, appliance store, motorcycle dealer, personal injury lawyer, and bail bonds outfit were included on a graphic on the bottom of the screen.
Of all the classic yule logs that I viewed in 2014, my favorite has to be KOFY channel 20’s (also in San Francisco) version. I recorded an episode that aired for two hours beginning at midnight on Christmas Eve. The program began with a wide shot of a living room fireplace with two poinsettias on the hearth (if it’s the same TV20 footage from years gone by, then it was filmed at the home of Paul from the Diamond Center) and started with the rousing “Joy to the World.” Featuring a wide range of music, from rockabilly to country-tinged, to the Beach Boys, to boy bands, to jazzier tracks, to old favorites from decades ago, the soundtrack had something for everyone. Probably even more interesting, though, was the visual treatment of this log. The natural-looking fire included cut pieces of wood that were clearly burning in the fireplace over an elapsed period of time. Occasionally we’d see Santa stoking the fire or view a flannel shirt-attired man adding logs. Towards the end an object was thrown into the fire, followed by another object. Upon close inspection, it appeared to be wadded up balls of newspaper. The program ended with the Hawaiian-themed Christmas song Mele Kalikimaka. With many of the other yule logs airing pretty short loops of footage (the original log looped a 17 second snippet), the TV 20 log had much more variety to it and kept my attention until the bitter end.
In addition to the yule logs that appeared on my television (I get programming via DirecTV satellite), I know that there were many more all over the country, including some that could be found on-demand. Did you have a favorite this year?
Just one dollar a month makes you a patron of Radio Survivor. Help us through our Patreon Campaign!