Over the next week, many of you will spend time in living rooms that lack a fireplace. This is a common occurrence in the modern west, and over the last decade or so, many folk have turned to looping videos of yule logs as a replacement for the real thing. Youtube, Netflix, Amazon, and probably Hulu (can’t be bothered to check) all have their own fireplace/yule log videos explicitly for this purpose, and while none of them furnish the warmth or danger of a real indoor fire, they do provide a background of soulless, royalty-free Christmas music arranged for piano, glockenspiel, and (sometimes) harp.
I’m not here to dump on anyone who plays these videos during the holidays (you’re fine people and there’s nothing wrong with you), but I am here to tell you that they suck eggs. Yule log videos were a novelty played in jest when they first hit the scene, but now I fear that, like many other holiday traditions, today’s humans play them just to keep the tradition going, to repeat a motion that has since lost its purpose or meaning.
And yes, there is meaning to the yule log. Even if you disregard the yule log as an early modern European Christmas tradition, or even its potential Germanic pagan origins before that, the act of sitting with fire has significance. Whether communing with others or alone, when you sit with a fire you are tying yourself to a million years of human history. You are performing the same motions, more or less, as the wandering collectives of Homo erectus who first tamed fire for humanity, as well as the billions of souls that span the gap between then and now. To gather at fire is human, since the very, very beginning, and that means something. We are connected to the breadth of our existence when we do this.
But when we gather around a looping video, even one played in memorandum to the tradition of the yule log, what we’re connected to then is a server somewhere. We’re connecting to a recommendation algorithm; a view counter; an advertisement engine; a data point on a marketing graph. Capitalism has replaced the yule log with a monetized facsimile, just as it’s done with the rest of Christmas.
I’m not here to argue that Christmas is Too Commercial™, though — Christmas tests just as positive for Capitalism as the rest of everyday life in God’s America. What I’m saying is that we choose what plays on that living room TV during the holidays. We get to pick what traditions we honor and which ones we don’t.
So instead of gathering around the same sad ghost that everyone else with a Netflix account has on, why not honor something that has always existed on television? Why not enhance our warm family gatherings and contemplative, fairy-lit holiday nights with a looping video of the Sega CD’s start-up screen and accompanying North American Model 2 BIOS music?
Why can’t a swirling rainbow system logo, juxtaposed against the infinite majesty of space, give us just as much joy as a warm glass of wassail, or the smell of gingerbread coming from the kitchen? It can, my friends. We just have to give it the chance.