One of the most beloved Christmas traditions was almost lost forever.
Yule Logs are everywhere these days, on television, on YouTube and on streaming services. But the one that started it all ― the WPIX Yule Log that was originally broadcast in New York starting in 1966 ― actually vanished for years.
“After the station discontinued the program, the original film was put in a mislabeled canister and lost/forgotten for many years,” said Brian Earl, host of Christmas Past, a podcast focusing on Christmas nostalgia.
The only thing the station had to air on Christmas Eve in 1966 was roller derby, Earl said. So general manager Fred Thrower sent a camera crew to Gracie Mansion to film the fireplace, or what Earl called the “television equivalent of a Christmas card.”
“It was an idea that could’ve been seen as strange, risky, bold, silly,” Earl said. “But nobody could’ve predicted that it would catch on the way it did.”
The 17-second loop aired for three hours, with a soundtrack of Christmas music from what was, at the time, the TV station’s sister radio station. But by 1970, the recording had started to degrade and a new version was taped in California. That film aired annually on WPIX until 1989.
But it too disappeared.
Chip Arcuri, a Yule Log fan who runs a website dedicated to it, said on the podcast that the second version was found mislabelled in a canister in New Jersey as a “Honeymooners” episode.
“The program was in a miserable state,” Arcuri said. “They diced, they sliced, they chopped, they pureed.”
It was cut from three hours to two and missing its beloved music. The station that had provided the soundtrack was defunct. Even worse, most of the songs were rare and out-of-print.
That’s where Arcuri’s Yule Log fandom paid off.
“I had every record in my collection,” he said. “If it wasn’t for my collection, the program could not have been fully restored.”
Arcuri and a friend restored the program for WPIX.
In July 2016, the original 1966 Yule Log recording was found during a hunt for archival footage of Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate.
“It was like Christmas in July,” digital director Rolando Pujol, who found the footage, told Parade at the time.
That footage was also restored and re-aired.
“To me, it has tremendous value as a piece of TV history,” Pujol told NorthJersey.com. “The Yule Log is high-concept TV ― which, in the face of it, sounds like a ratings disaster and a very bad decision. But it draws people in and compels them. And they keep it on as a sort of friend that you have over to your house every holiday. You turn it on and it’s there.”
Of course, WPIX is no longer the only Yule Log around. Copycat logs have popped up around the country and online, including HD, 3D and VR logs. There are also plenty of novelty Yule Logs online: