There was a brief time when I was growing up when I didn’t have a fireplace. This was before you could buy a plug in electric fireplace that looked like the real thing.
But fear not! In those days, on Christmas Eve, WPIX, Channel 11, New York would broadcast “The Yule Log.” I’m not sure how many hours it would play, but it was hour after hour of televised fireplace, basically. I’ll bet it would be even better in HDTV or 3D today! I’m just not sure who would watch. But as a kid, I loved it!
Interestingly enough, I was at a party at home without a fireplace (or the modern day equivalent electric fireplace). And there on the TV was a DVD of a fireplace, complete with crackling sounds! (No Christmas carols on the DVD though–but they were being played elsewhere). So broadcast fireplaces are alive and well.
Little did I realize that I was watching a very old Viking tradition. And it’s a good thing I wasn’t trying to re-enact the Yule log in my home–because woe betide the one whose Yule log didn’t ignite one the first try–it was a year of bad luck! And if the log burned out? A year of bad luck! Much better to just safely watch the thing on good old WPIX!
Occasionally you can still find festively decorated “yule” logs around today–I saw one at a supermarket just last year. The market has since gone out of business so I wonder how well those logs burned?
But the tradition of the Yule log was a Viking one, as I alluded to above. At the solstice, the family ventured into the woods, found a stout oak log and brought it back to burn in deference to their gods and with all good wishes for abundance and prosperity.
But woe to the family whose log did not burn well! It could mean anything from a year of bad luck to curses on the entire family!
These days Martha Stewart and Julia Child have made the culinary yule log–or bouche de Noel–a famous dessert perhaps more famous than the old log in the fireplace. And I have my own fireplace to burn yule logs if I want them (although the threat of a year’s bad luck is enough to make me wonder.)
But I’ll always remember back fondly to my childhood and watching the “TV Yule log.” Little did I know it was safer that way–in more ways than one!