The televised "Yule Log" became a tradition in 1966, when WPIX-New York aired film of a crackling fire. The goal was to give New Yorkers without fireplaces a halfway decent simulation of one on TV. Fast-forward 49 years, and the best Yule Logs are streaming online. Pick your favorite, make it full-screen, and enjoy.
(Technical note: Some of these videos use YouTube's "annotations" feature to pop up ads and junk during the otherwise nice footage of fireplaces. If you're viewing on a device that lets you turn off annotations, do it. On a typical browser, you click the "gear" icon, then click "OFF" next to "Annotations.")
1. Darth Vader Yule Log (Five Hours)
Contains a spoiler from the original trilogy, I guess. Five hours on the pyre. Crosses the line between festive and bizarre, but if you're looking to brighten up your Dark Side, this is probably what you're watching anyway.
2. Crackling and Popping (One Hour)
Lovely, simple Yule Log. Around 13 minutes in, new wood is added.
3. High Frame Rate Yule Log (Two and a Half Hours)
Shot at 50 frames per second—roughly double the rate of normal film—this looks almost too real for me. But if you liked the recent Hobbit movies, you'll dig this.
4. WPIX 1983 Yule Log (Eight Minutes)
A 1983 broadcast from WPIX, where it all started. Includes music! Note at the beginning narration, they simulcast stereo audio on an FM station (you won't be able to tune into that now, sorry).
5. Yule Owl (40 Minutes)
Hootsuite put "Snoopy" the owl on a perch in front of a fire. Snoopy is fun to watch, and almost as soothing as the fire by itself. Watch for slow blinks and winks.
6. Lil Bub (One Hour)
A purring, snoring cat with her tongue sticking out, in front of a roaring fire. Does it get any better? Not really. Behold!
Netflix has a "Fireplace for Your Home" yule log, which, oddly enough, is set up as three "episodes" in a TV season (some have music, some don't). If you turn on the closed captions, you get this helpful note: "[CRACKLING]." Amazon Prime Instant Video has the same thing (be sure to check out the related videos).
Woodworker Frank Howarth makes Christmas ornaments each year, and he shows us the process in his videos. The videos aren't simple how-to presentations, though; they're little works of art, featuring timelapse, very little language, and even stop-motion photography. This year's ornament video is no exception.
In this 11-minute video, Howarth makes what he calls an "inside-out Christmas ornament," complete with a mini-Christmas tree inside. It's fascinating to watch a master at work, especially when he gets into wood turning on a lathe. He also intercuts the process of selecting and cutting down his family's Christmas tree at a tree farm. Tune in, relax, and enjoy.
Christmas trees are everywhere this time of year—in the mall, in the town square, in your living room. However, some cities around the world get creative and jettison the idea of what a traditional holiday tree looks like. After seeing the following 15 trees, you’ll never look at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree the same way again.
1. FLOATING TREE // RIO DE JANEIRO
In the summer of 2016, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas’s lagoon in Rio de Janeiro was the site of the Olympic rowing competitions, but in the winter it houses a 27-story Christmas tree weighing 542 tons. Every minute, the nearly 3 million lights (75 miles worth) change colors. The tree appears to float above the lagoon, because it's attached to 11 floats. During the weekends, the lagoon sets off fireworks and creates a carnival atmosphere around the tree.
2. GODZILLA TREE // TOKYO
In 2011, Aqua City Odaiba mall in Tokyo created a Godzilla-shaped tree, replete with glowing red eyes and steam billowing out of its mouth. ‘Zilla donned a Santa hat and had white lights strewn all over its green body. If the tree actually came to life, the mall—and Tokyo—would be in deep trouble.
3. LEGO TREES // WINDSOR, ENGLAND; SYDNEY
LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
Every holiday season, LEGOLAND in Windsor, Berkshire, England, builds its resort tree out of LEGOs as part of its Christmas Bricktacular celebration. The 26-foot tree is made from 300,000 LEGO bricks and takes four weeks to build. In 2015, an angel made from 4550 LEGO bricks topped the tree. Over in Sydney, in 2014, a LEGO tree was displayed in Pitt Street Mall. It was built from half a million LEGO bricks, weighed 3.5 tons, towered at 32 feet, and took 1200 hours to amass, becoming the largest LEGO Christmas tree in the Southern Hemisphere. But the largest LEGO Christmas tree ever award goes to London's St Pancras Station, whose 2011 tree measured 40 feet in height.
4. POINTE SHOES TREE // LONDON
Each winter, the English National Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum. For the 2015 season, dancer Amber Hunt had a brainstorm. “It all started by people asking me how many pairs of shoes dancers would use in a year,” she said. Turns out, it took 40 hours to stack 588 pointe shoes into the shape of a tree. “We had to drill over 1000 holes into the shoes so we could tie and hold them together on wires, and then we plated all the ribbons around the tree,” Hunt said. “We also added a pointe shoe star at the top.” It took 40 hours to complete the project.
5. EMIRATES PALACE HOTEL // ABU DHABI
In 2010, the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi created what’s supposedly the world’s most expensive Christmas tree. The artificial tree cost only $10,000, but the jewels that decorated it bumped the tree’s value to $11 million. Necklaces and earrings adorned the tree: 181 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, and sapphires. This year, though, the hotel’s gone back to a more subdued (a.k.a. jewel-free) tree.
6. GOLD DISNEY TREE // TOKYO
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
Not quite as expensive as the Dubai tree, in 2012 jewelry store Ginza Tanaka in Tokyo offered for sale a “tree” containing 88 pounds of gold, that stood eight feet high and three feet in diameter. The store hired 10 craftsmen to create 50 gold cutouts of Disney characters that were engraved on the tree like ornaments. The whole tree, which was created to celebrate Walt Disney's 110th birthday, was worth 350 million yen, or $4.2 million.
7. CHURCHILL ARMS TREES // LONDON
During the spring and summer, the Churchill Arms pub in Kensington, London—which pays respect to Winston Churchill—covers its rooftop, windows, and exterior pub with an overwhelming array of 90 flowers and plants, like an unwieldy garden. For the holidays, though, they exhibit a swath of pine trees—80 to be exact. Several years ago they started with 30 trees, but this year have a record 80 trees and 18,000 lights. The pub’s interior is also filled with a lot of Christmas decorations, and random objects hanging from the ceiling. In 2013, Arms manager Gerry O’Brien told Daily Mail, “There’s no room for any more [trees],” but he apparently found more space.
8. MOUNT INGINO TREE // GUBBIO, ITALY
Paolo TOSTI/AFP/Getty Images
Since 1981, instead of assembling one large tree, Gubbio, Umbria, Italy, has taken advantage of its trees on the slopes of Mount Ingino and outlined them with 300 green lights. The lighting display covers 130,000 square meters; the base is 450 meters wide and reaches 750 meters, or 2460 feet up the hillside. In recent years, Pope Benedict XVI has initiated the lighting ceremony remotely in Vatican City via an Android tablet.
9. UPSIDE-DOWN TREES // BOSTON
Liberty Hotel Boston/Facebook
The next best thing to an upright tree is an upside-down one. Every holiday season, the Liberty Hotel in Boston installs six inverted trees in its 90-foot rotunda lobby. The artful trees hang from beams, and are decorated with glowing lights.
10. CIRQUE DU SOLEIL TREE // LONDON
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
In 2015, the St Pancras rail station/shopping center in London displayed a Christmas tree made from plush Disney toys, such as Mickey Mouse, Marie the cat from The Aristocats, and Dumbo. This year, the station presented a Cirque du Soleil tree as a means to raise money for Oxfam. The Amaluna Christmas Tree, which is named after Cirque’s show Amaluna (based on The Tempest), stands nearly 40 feet tall and includes a water bowl orb with moving underwater projections, showing bits of the show.
11. SHOPPING CART TREE // SANTA MONICA
MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images
One of the more unusual trees, Santa Monica’s shopping cart Christmas tree is just that—a tree-shaped structure built from 86 carts that reach 33 feet. Anthony Schmitt founded the tradition in 1995 so he could communicate ideas of abundance, commercialism, and homelessness. The “tree” can be found on Main Street, in front of Edgemar, a mixed-used retail center.
12. ABSTRACT TREE // BRUSSELS
In 2012, Brussels's main square, La Grand Place, strayed from its customary pine Christmas tree and instead opted for something abstract—and controversial. The 78-foot tree was a light installation made out of steel-framed boxes. At night, the square treated people to a laser show. The cost of the tree was one-third less than a real tree, so it seemed like a win-win situation. But some people were outraged about the non-religious tree—named Xmas 3—with 25,000 people signing a petition to have it removed (it was taken down on December 28). “For people who want a traditional religious symbol, we have the nativity scene here in the square,” Brussels tourism councillor Philippe Close told the BBC. “For people who want modernity, we have this new tree.” Since then, La Grand Place has stuck with conventional trees.
Provincetown, Massachusetts is home to a lot of lobsters, so it makes sense to use lobster pots to form a tree. Artist Julian Popko started the annual event 12 years ago when he borrowed lobster pots from local fisheries and displayed the tree in Lopes Square. Today, 112 lobster pots make up the two-story tree, which also contains 3400 LED lights, 120 red bows, and 46 plastic lobsters.
14. PUFF PASTRY TREE // JAKARTA
Being the “The World’s Tallest Choux Pastry Christmas Tree” seems like a strange accolade, but that’s how hotel The Park Lane Jakarta rolls. (MURI—the Indonesia World Records Museum—anointed the hotel the coveted title). Last year, Park Lane debuted the tree, made from 18,000 choux pastries (croquembouche). The tree stood 29 feet tall, and the hotel staff used more than 250 pounds of flour, 169 pounds of butter, 2112 eggs, and 12.6 pounds of sugar to make the pastries.
15. WINE GLASS TREE // SEATTLE
Kimpton Hotel Vintage Seattle/Facebook
The boutique-y Kimpton Hotel Vintage Seattle specializes in wine, with vineyard-themed rooms, vinos from local wineries, and, of course, a Christmas tree in the lobby constructed from wine glasses. The tree will probably make guests thirsty, so luckily the hotel hosts a daily wine reception for its guests, to squelch their thirst until they can reach Washington State's wine country, which is comprised of 700 wineries.