The Hot Show on Christmas Day

The 1970
The 1970 "Yule Log" ("the first music video") and a newer high-definition version will air on Dec. 25. (Wpix-tv Via Associated Press)
By David Bauder
Associated Press
Monday, December 18, 2006

NEW YORK -- There's a Yule duel brewing this Christmas.

Not one, but two separate versions of "The Yule Log," one of television's oddest yet most heartwarming holiday habits, will beckon families as they open their gifts next Monday.

There's the traditional log, burning brightly since filmed by New York's WPIX-TV in 1970, and another that will air uninterrupted for 24 hours on INHD, with a high-definition picture so crisp you'll be tempted to reach for a poker.

For many years a peculiarly New York tradition, both "Yule Logs" will now glow in most of the country.

It seems silly: Why would anyone want to fill a television screen with a picture of a burning log, backed by a soundtrack of Christmas carols? Yet its inventor bet correctly that "The Yule Log" would resonate with New Yorkers sentimental for the notion of home and hearth while living in apartments without fireplaces.

Christmas is also a day to slow down, to set aside life's frenetic pace for enjoyment of family, and nothing symbolizes that unhurried attitude better than a picture that doesn't change for hours.

"In a way, it was the first music video," said Mitch Thrower, whose father came up with the idea, "and the star was a burning log."

The log has burned for so long, at least in New York, that many anticipate its return as they do eggnog or ornaments.

"There's a sentimental attachment to it," said Chip Arcuri, who painstakingly re-recorded the soundtrack for this year's showing. "When you watch 'The Yule Log,' at least for me personally, it brings back such poignant and personal memories of growing up."

Arcuri may be more attached than most. He and a friend started, a Web site devoted to "The Yule Log," and he has watched the log so often he knows when the sparks fly up from its right side.

Mitch's dad, Fred Thrower, then general manager of WPIX, lit the log in 1966. He was looking to do something different as a holiday gift for viewers, and figured it wasn't much of a sacrifice to cancel the scheduled Christmas Eve showing of roller derby and substitute a three-hour televised fireplace.

Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City's mayors, volunteered its majestic fireplace -- a move it regretted when a spark burned a hole in a valuable Oriental rug.

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