Advent Calendar: All Hail The Yule Log

For the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Christmas Eve.

Thank God for the Yule Log, is all I can say.

We were a bit thin on Christmas Eve traditions in my childhood home. My mother’s parents were German, so we could have adopted the German custom of keeping the tree in a closed room until the big reveal for the wide-eyed children on Christmas Eve.

But my German grandpa was more about being all-American. Anyway, he could hardly have hidden a Christmas tree in his Brooklyn apartment. And it wouldn’t be any easier to pull off in the New Jersey split-level where we were raised.

But we could cherish the Yule Log, a Christmas Eve TV tradition in the greater New York City area from 1966 to 1989. If you grew up in that place and time, chances are you tuned in to WPIX-TV for your fix, at least for a minute or two:

The Yule Log’s magic is hard to explain to someone who didn’t grow up with it. (“Let me get this straight. It was a VIDEO of a LOG. Burning. In the fireplace. With Christmas carols. That’s it?”)

Yeah. That’s it.

The Log originally burned in the fireplace at Gracie Mansion, the official home of New York City’s mayor. You can read all the history and trivia in this delightful Yule Log website, lovingly tended by Lawrence F. “Chip” Arcuri, a maestro of Yule Log trivia.

In a 1970s version of home-theater surround, we could put the Yule Log on the TV in the living room AND on the radio in the kitchen, since it was simulcast. And the sound track was a true winter wonderland: Percy Faith! The Robert Shaw Chorale! Mantovani! My Dad singing along as he wrapped the final fruitcakes!

It is hard to imagine any TV station today devoting four hours of programming on Christmas Eve to a musical, burning log. (“Aw, c’mon. Who needs another abs machine infomercial, anyway?”) And after 20-odd years of Yule Logs, WPIX found it hard to imagine, too. The Log went out for a good long time.

But no doubt due to devoted fans like Arcuri, the Yule Log’s custodians at WPIX and its parent, Tribune Broadcasting, have rediscovered its retro appeal. It’s returned to New York airwaves in recent years, although not on Christmas Eve. Here is a schedule.

Keep the home fires burning. And Merry Christmas!


6 Comments on “Advent Calendar: All Hail The Yule Log”

  1. My mother – who is of Canadian/French/Acadian heritage grew up in the 1920s/30s in rural New Brunswick and her family had the same tradition of unveiling the Christmas tree at the last moment. The tree was set up in the front parlour of their old farmhouse. It was only used for visits of the priests, funerals and Christmas Eve. the tree would be unveiled when they got back from Christmas Eve mass.
    Evelyn in Montreal

    • Fascinating … I always pegged that custom as exclusively German, but there you go; so often these things have a broader reach than I realize! And this tradition of “hiding the tree” is such an important subtext in the beginning scene of The Nutcracker ballet, too. The whole party scene is kicked off when the kids are finally allowed into the room with the tree. It didn’t occur to me until this year, when we were watching a video of the ballet, and my 7-year-old daughter asked why the children were being kept in the hallway until the last minute. Funny to think how that opening scene doesn’t make as much sense until you understand that custom.

  2. Wow, thanks for stopping by! The Vancouver log looks different — classic stacked-log effect, very nice. Too bad it’s not on again for you guys this year, though — hope you have a merry Christmas anyway!

  3. mdianerogers says:

    We’ve had the Yule Log blazing away on TV for a long time too in Vancouver, British Columbia – not as long as in New York though! Last year, it was back in the west ‘by popular request’, but I don’t think it’s on this year. Yule log relit for seasonal warmth, 31 October 2008

    • mdianerogers says:

      Someone just told me that it is on Telus TV here this year -(Channel 14, if someone is looking). I’ve seen videos for sale here too.

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