Knutfest: Christmas Tree Throwing

The Christmas tree has a unique tradition in Germany. In fact, it is where the Christmas tree started. Originally, a pine tree was cut from the local forest around Christmas eve, brought inside, lit with real (!) candles, and decorated. Not much has changed in how the Germans utilize a Christmas tree. While some opt for a fake tree, or one with electric lights for slightly less of a fire hazard, many of them still put up their tree on Christmas Eve and decorate it then. It remains decorated until January 6, known to many as the Epiphany, when the three wise men arrived to honor the birth of Jesus. After that, the trees are taken down, and most are discarded by the local refuse collection. However, in one small town in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz, a more interesting and festive way has emerged - Knutfest, a Christmas tree throwing competitions!

Supposedly, the tradition hails from Sweden (honestly, who else could think this stuff up?!); however, they just toss their tree out their apartment or living room window and call it a day. It took the Germans to take this tradition one step further and turn it into a competition!

The Sunday after the Epiphany, in the cold and rain, Aaron and I headed out to the small town of Weidenthal to partake in the festivities. There are three competitions - longest throw (javelin style), highest throw, and hammer throw - and three divisions - men, women, and children. In typical German fashion, there was bratwurst and other hot foods for sale, Gluhwein, which you could get in half liter mugs, wineschorles (wine with sparkling water, also served by the half liter), other beverages, and a fairly large assortment of homemade cakes. Many people also arrived dragging their Christmas trees behind them, not to throw in the competition, but to throw on the giant bon fire that was burning.

Karnival band playing at Knutfest

As we walked up to the festivities, the smell of the bon fire and the piney scent from the trees nearly overwhelmed us, but was most welcome. The smells of a city are not always as pleasant, and many times, we miss the earthy smells of nature. The sounds of a Karnival band (which is essentially the same as an American marching ban) playing some pretty recognizable tunes drifted over those gathered to watch the competition. Speaking of which, the fact that we recognized so many of the same makes me wonder if there is some sort of International Song Book of Band Songs. Neither Aaron nor I were in marching band, so if you could weigh in on this, we would greatly appreciate it!

Before the events could start, a sufficient number of wineschorles must be consumed. In much the same way that one gets better at beer pong after having a couple of beers, I imagine the same holds true for Christmas tree throwing. The first event was longest throw. The tree is held by the trunk, similar to a javelin, the thrower then gets somewhat of a running start, and hurls the tree, bottom first. The distance is then measured and recorded. Each person gets two chances. Poor Aaron had his turn right after the champion from last year threw, but for a rookie, he did really well.

Aaron taking his turn at the JAVELIN style throw

The PROJECT Manager for Aaron's work throwing the tree

World record for women's (top) and Men's (bottom) from the previous year

The next event was the highest throw. Imagine a pole vaulter set up, but replace the human vaulter with a Christmas tree. Again, Aaron, who had never seen this before, drew the short straw and had to throw first. Last year, the highest throw was 5.25 meters, or 17 feet 2 inches for those who don't speak metric. Most people threw it in the 3.5 - 4.25 meter range though. 


aAron throwing the tree for height


The last, and final, event was the Christmas tree toss. For this event, a rope was tied onto the stump end of the tree. Throwers then swung the tree in a giant circle and then tossed it out onto the field, kind of like a hammer throw. For those of you who have ever been to Gay, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula for their Fourth of July celebrations, this was eerily similar to the fish toss, minus the blind fold. 

Matthias hammer throwing the Christmas tree

Post-release on Aaron's toss

I have to admit, minus the German being spoken, it kind of felt like we were back in the UP for a little bit. Despite the cold, wet weather, it was nice to be outside and experiencing more local German culture. It is this kind of thing that makes living in a different country with a culture different from your own so interesting!

The whole group who came for the afternoon!

The event even made the news! If you want to watch the clip (it's in German, obviously), click here.

Trying to stay warm, and relatively dry!

Anyone else participate in Christmas tree throwing? Or burning? Or some other exciting way to dispose of a real tree?