With almost two weeks until Kris Kringle descends the chimney, not all of us are fortunate enough to have a working hearth to heat the home and lend fitting holiday ambience. And so, we scoured streaming services for the most festive fire this side of the flat screen.
A few criteria: The following selections are explicitly holiday in nature. The business of fireside broadcasting has become a year-round cottage industry (no pun intended), so we intentionally chopped any videos that were not of the season. Also, they’re of no extra charge other than your monthly streaming service subscription. Lastly, the focus here is on the fire itself, and not other holiday vignettes, picturesque as they may be.
With that in mind, fire up the device and get in the spirit with these yuletide scenarios.
FOR THE ASH HEAP
Yule Log Christmas Fireplace 10 Hours
Running time: 10 hours (!)
Crackle factor: Steady and sharp—basically the only thing this one has going for it.
Other audio: Nothing to speak of, especially when the visuals are so… noteworthy.
Fireside thoughts: Instead of a close shot of the fire itself, here we get the whole mantel, including the stone work and walls around it, a partially cropped-out chair, a random house plant, and a bronzed statue of a child(?). Title and description notwithstanding, there are absolutely no visible or audible “Yule” touches, just 10 damn hours of a fire, poorly framed and ill-conceived in someone else’s well-lit living room.
Log line: Pound the eggnog and excuse yourself from this unfortunate, bizarre house party—all 10 hours of it.
Holiday Family Favorites: Yule Log
Running time: 63 min.
Crackle factor: The crackle don’t quit.
Other audio: Just as audible as the fire is an intermittent hum that sounds like someone’s speaker shorted out nearby, along with a decent amount of noise that didn’t get mixed down.
Fireside thoughts: There’s no music here, just the appearance of fire (more on that momentarily), and a jarring flash every 10 seconds that tells of an obvious video loop. The composition itself is similarly odd, with a solid orange illumination at the bottom of the fire that calls to mind a garage heater and animated-looking flames that look superimposed over it.
Log line: Extinguish at once.
The Ultimate Yule Log: The Light of Christmas
Running time: 68 min.
Crackle factor: You’ll be too dumbfounded by the visuals and music to bother seeking out the crackle.
Other audio: The corn factor is high on this one, from an opening poem of Hallmarkian sentiment to the lowest-budget Manheim Steamroller carols a la ’80s-era Casio, tinny pianos, ancient symphonic and choral treatments, even a reggae nod. Did someone ask for a ball-peen hammer for Christmas? Break it out.
Fireside thoughts: A vestige of the old 4:3 screen ratio age, this one throws everything and the kitchen sink into the (deeply sooted) hearth, which looks as though it were illuminated from above by fluorescent key light. No kidding, the finest bit of Santa clip art floats down the live-action chimney (ouch, those flames!) barely 2 minutes into the hour-plus shenanigans, with the backing brick wall a canvas for projections of Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers, church facades, winter landscapes and other seasonal sights. Add a dusting of snow and a starry night on top of the flames for odd measure, along with another obviously computer-sketched hearth superimposed over the fire, some truly god-awful illustrations, an old animation and telling of the story of Luke 2, and a scene from 1935’s Scrooge, the first feature-length sound adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
Log line: From secular to sacred to clip-art Santa, this is truly the ultimate, whatever that means.
Yuletide Fireplace in a Box
Running time: 54 min.
Crackle factor: None at all save for in between the music, which drowns out any natural sounds.
Other audio: And, oh, the music, often obnoxious, not only keyboard-heavy and dripping of doctor’s-office-ready smooth jazz but with vocals (including cloying kiddies who won’t be invited to join the Vienna Boys’ Choir anytime soon).
Fireside thoughts: The fire itself looks like the stream has been sped up—either that, or the flames are being fanned into hyperdrive. It’s a wildfire seemingly set to unleash at any moment—at least until the flames die down, only somewhat, later in the hour, and the effect is less than comforting. As for the video, it’s something less than hi-def, and the super-low lighting leaves little room for supplementary detail or ambience.
Log line: If this yuletide fireplace were indeed in a box, lord help you. It’d consume the cardboard and take down the homestead in minutes.
The Merry Yule Log
Running time: 60 min.
Crackle factor: Regular snap, crackle and pop punctuates the muzak soundtrack.
Other audio: A mélange of strings, piano and guitar instrumentals meet jazzy flutes, children’s choruses, and the occasional Celtic-tinged number. Heavy-handed, yes, but it’s not the worst aural offender here, especially if you’re used to spending a lot of time in Yankee Candle stores.
Fireside thoughts: A traditional hearth setup is further dated by old-timey accoutrements and baroque-ish patterning behind the fire. The flames themselves—purportedly “filmed in HD”—are, in a word, animated. While that’s certainly one way to stage a controlled burn, it by no means looks realistic. Then again, you’re turning to a plastic box for proverbial warmth, so as simulated ambience goes, why not?
Log line: Have yourself a maudlin little Christmas.
Running time: 59 min.
Crackle factor: Minimal but audible.
Other audio: Like the superior Fireplace and Melodies for the Holidays (see below), the piano-only soundtrack features traditional holiday fare.
Fireside thoughts: There’s nothing fancy here, and the fire and its housing are less clean and pretty than Fireplace and Melodies, due to a tighter composition and a whole lotta soot and distracting embers. But the lighting levels are good, the fire is neither too much nor too little, and the absence of canned music is a gift in and of itself.
Log line: Respectable, if nothing to get too stoked about.
TOP OF THE HEAP
Running time: 90 min.
Crackle factor: As high and plentiful as the flames.
Other audio: No music to be heard here, though the cross ventilation winds and echoes are quite prominent in the sound mix.
Fireside thoughts: Bare bones, up close and personal, and nothing but fire, the visuals pop, with vibrant but balanced color and contrast.
Log line: Sure to get you toasty.
Fireplace and Melodies for the Holidays
Running time: 120 min.
Crackle factor: Muted, especially in comparison with others on the list.
Other audio: Staid Christmas standards rendered via unadorned piano.
Fireside thoughts: Maybe it’s the white brick hearth behind it, but there’s a distinct, pleasantly retro vibe to this one, with its simple production, medium-light levels (brighter than most on this list but by no means a disservice), and classic soundtrack. A crisp static shot, slightly wider than most on this list, of the fire is cut with unobtrusive close-ups of burning embers.
Log line: Naturally composed and not too cluttered, the visuals here are tough to beat. Adjust the volume as you like and settle in for one of the better ones out there.
Fireplace for Your Home Presents: Christmas Music/Holiday Edition and Crackling Yule Log Fireplace
Availability: Christmas Music/Holiday Edition (Amazon Prime Video and Hulu), Crackling Yule Log Fireplace (Netflix)
Running time: 60 min.
Crackle factor: Quite pronounced, even over the music.
Other audio: An instrumental soundtrack of synth and string textures is expected if innocuous.
Fireside thoughts: Ash auteur George Ford’s empire of “Fireplace for Your Home” titles provides nothing if not options, and the holidays are no exception. For our seasonally specific purposes, the Christmas Music/Holiday and Crackling Yule Log Fireplace editions are tasteful, straightforward installments. Visual flourishes are minimal aside from the almost perfect symmetry of freshly chopped wood—bonus points for the fire actually evolving over the course of the hour. The lighting—not too dark, not too bright—makes for a cozy contrast. If we could recommend one non-holiday entry, the Fireplace 4K: Crackling Birchwood edition (on Netflix only) is quite lovely, and is available, in FFYH fashion, with and without a musical soundtrack.
Log line: With quality production values and the branding to match, the FFYH series are perennial go-to backdrops for a reason.
Amanda Schurr is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a culture writer in Portland, Ore., whose dog wouldn’t leave the beloved faux fireplace-slash-space heater to weigh in on this yule log roundup. You can follow her on Twitter.