Fireplace television

In 1966 a New York TV station played a 17-second loop of a blazing fireplace accompanied by Christmas music. It was, and is, a huge success.

Anwar2, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Merry Christmas to those readers in later time zones (I’m already in Boxing Day). One of my favourite American Christmas traditions is the yule log fire show. It’s a bit of a precursor to the modern slow TV movement: an opportunity to slow down and relax; a show that takes its time.

In 1966 the head of a New York TV station decided to do something nice for apartment-dwellers and also his employees. He figured that many people lacked a Christmas fireplace and might appreciate a TV version; he also figured that his staff deserved some time off around Christmas. So the Yule Log show was born. Filmed at the house of the Mayor of New York, it simply showed a burning fireplace on a 17-second loop with pleasant Christmas music playing in the background. There were no ads, no breaks, just a warm holiday welcome to anyone who tuned in.

Such an innocuous idea quickly became a New York tradition, and that programme (or a second version that replaced it after the first film wore out) played every Christmas for twenty three years.

1966 was a good year for Christmas: it also saw the premiere of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (the Boris Karloff version). Both the Yule Log and the Grinch are staples in our household. The Yule Log TV show has seen many imitators in the last 54 years, but my favourite has to be Nick Offerman’s 2015 version. In it, the actor / comedian sits down in a leather armchair in front of a fire and drinks a glass of whisky in silence. For forty-five minutes.

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