Sunday’s Tree Toss Contest Actually Has Some Roots


POTTSTOWN PA – As if jumping into the Schuylkill River on New Year’s Day wasn’t enough of an adventure, the organizers of Sunday’s (Jan. 1, 2012) well-attended Polar Bear Plunge at Pottstown’s Riverfront Park offered visitors the additional entertainments of a fruit cake roll (it will become a new regional tradition,” borough Mayor Bonnie Heath proclaimed) and the return of a Christmas tree toss.

Whether tradition lies ahead for the prospect of rolling a fruitcake the farthest down a paved path is anyone’s guess. But yes, Virginia, there actually is a history – and a sufficient amount of muscle, too – behind the notion of throwing a fully branched tree through the air like a javelin, and measuring the distance it flies.

Such contests reportedly began centuries ago among lumberjacks and had nothing to do with replacing last year’s calendar, but everything to do with profit.

Woodsmen of old didn’t get paid until their lumber sold, so competition was keen among loggers to get their goods to market faster than their chopping colleagues. To do that, historians say, they attempted to throw their felled trees closest to crews that were stacking the wood they cut. The sooner their pieces were stacked, the sooner the buyers arrived, and the sooner loggers earned their commission.

Machinery moves and stacks cut lumber today, but tree tossing is still revered in places like Europe, where annual contests are held. The most recently reported tree-tossing record was filed last year (Dec. 16, 2010), when The Metro newspaper said a competitor in Gadow, Germany, threw a 5-foot tree about 40 feet.

By comparison, those who were turning trunks Sunday along Pottstown’s banks of the Schuylkill were capable of less than half that distance.

The competition wasn't limited to men, either