People are enchanted by fire—even a virtual one

The holiday phenomenon of the Yule log persists to this day—only now it’s on Netflix.
Arts & Culture

It’s the heart of the home, a hearth is. An instantly understood symbol of welcome and warmth.

By the fire is the coveted seat at a pub, the most romantic table in a restaurant, and the place any golden retriever longs to nap.

Inviting a stranger to share your fire is entertaining angels unaware, a compassionate offering of hospitality and kindness, a promise of conviviality and an evening of long, wandering stories.

A fire is how we arm ourselves against the ravages of the cold. How we carve out a wee bit of heat while banked in snow and ice. How King Wenceslas cared for the poor man gathering winter fuel.

People are drawn to fire. We walk right up to it, smiling, stretching out our hands. We set firepits in our suburban lawns, and when we light them, the neighbors pop over with graham crackers and marshmallows. With a good book, what do we do? Curl up by the fire.


Humans are enchanted by the promise of a crackling fireplace—even if it’s streaming. A digital fire on a flat screen tends to puzzle the dog, but those of us living without a real hearth, who don’t want to venture out to the garage to get more wood, or who are allergic to the various molds and mildews living in dried chunks of trees have embraced the holiday phenomenon of the Yule log video.

It got its start back in 1966, when WPIX-TV in New York City filmed six minutes of a Yule log burning in the mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion. Put on a loop, it played for hours and became an annual tradition. The station still broadcasts a rousing fire in a fireplace every Christmas morning.

Today, most streaming services offer some version of a movie made of nothing more than watching a fire burn, and they are wildly popular, with more versions proliferating every season and even a mini-mockumentary, Yule Log: The Making of a Christmas Legend, on Amazon Prime.

Clicking the remote is instantaneous conflagration, and if you’re streaming on your laptop, you can carry your holiday hearth with you from room to room as you bake cookies and wrap presents. Admittedly, some of the pleasant comforts of incandescence are missing—you can’t smell the cedar or oak, and your toes will never get warmer—and there are drawbacks. On a huge television, a Yule log video can look like the family room is ablaze and might set the toddlers shrieking; on a phone, the cowering inferno looks like you dropped a match.


None of the Yule log videos feature actual Yule logs, enormous things that burned for days before sputtering out. The log was a symbol of divine light, a celebration of the sun returning in late winter as the days lengthened. Family traditions were created around it: The youngest child lit the evening’s candles from the burning log, children made secret wishes looking into the flames, and a scrap of unburned wood was saved to light next year’s log. In Antebellum Southern states, enslaved people were sometimes granted a holiday until the Yule log stopped burning.

Netflix offers Fireplace for Your Home in three hour-long versions: with holiday music, with non-holiday music, and with only the wood’s snap and sizzle with an occasional ka-chunk! of a half-charred log sliding into the grate. A “Birchwood Edition” is available, in case you care what type of wood is not actually burning in your living room.

Amazon Prime offers lengthier versions, including 10 straight hours of Yule Log Christmas Fireplace. You can set the fire for Christmas morning and not have to stir the embers or lift the remote until every stocking is emptied and the pie has been served.

Most Yule log videos with music contain unremarkable, schlocky tunes, but Capitol Records’ Christmas Classics Yule Log is a delight of holiday classics sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Peggy Lee.


A Very Happy & Friends Yule Log from Hallmark Movies features kittens and puppies frolicking in front of a fire. BBC America offers a Doctor Who Festive Yule Log with stockings hung on the TARDIS. For fans of the fantasy series The Witcher, a gas fire fails to burn fake logs in the metal fire ring of the Great Hall at Kaer Morhen. In Christmas Fireplace—Yule Log With Classic Holiday Films (Freevee), black-and-white Christmas movies play on a portable TV set so close to the fire one worries about melting the plastic.

YouTube is a trove of fireplaces-at-a-click from a multitude of producers: “Cozy Crackling Fireplace” (eight hours), “Fireplace” (10 hours), and a rather unnerving video of actor Nick Offerman sitting in a leather chair holding a glass of Lagavulin whisky, sipping occasionally and staring at the camera. (Offerman did one 45-minute take, and then it was cut into a loop of 10 hours.)

If you prefer your sparks outdoors, try YouTube’s “8 Hours of Relaxing Campfire by a Lake at Sunset” or “8 Hour Florida Yule Log” set on a beach or Amazon Prime’s Relaxing Beach Campfire. If you’re pyrophobic, try Thunderstorm and Beautiful Sunrises and Sunsets with Music (Amazon Prime).

Prometheus gave us a great gift, indeed. And television made it even better.


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This article also appears in the December 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 12, pages 36-37). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.



About the author

Pamela Hill Nettleton

Pamela Hill Nettleton teaches media studies and communication at the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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