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Timber! Bethlehem's annual Christmas tree toss raises almost $2,300 for charity

Elf Xmas Tree Toss.jpg
Tom Shortell
Josh Hoffert got into the holiday spirit during the annual Bethlehem Christmas Tree toss. His distance of 26 feet, 5 inches was one of the best of the day.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — In a city full of Christmas customs, about 100 people gathered at an auto garage Saturday for one of its silliest and most beloved traditions — seeing who could chuck a Christmas tree the farthest.

Organizer Mike DeCrosta couldn't recall if this was the 16th or 17th annual Peter Kearns Memorial Christmas Tree Toss. Formalities are less a priority than good-natured ribbing and sincere cheers after every launch. And more importantly, the customers, mechanics, police, firefighters and lovers of the offbeat raised nearly $2,300 for Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley, a non-profit serving victims of domestic abuse.

The top throw of the day belonged to Bethlehem Police Officer Chris Ross, who adopted a hammer toss technique to hurl the fir tree over 28 feet. Local police have been some of the biggest supporters over the years, developing a friendly rivalry to see who can earn the top spot. Ross said he was introduced to the event about three years ago after joining the department and quickly became a fan.

"Where else are you going to throw a Christmas tree and support something good?" Ross asked.

The absurdity of the competition has always been a selling point, said DeCrosta, a manager at host More Miles Automotive. While some people go through the motions of the more typical holiday traditions, the opportunity to throw around a Christmas tree never fails to get people genuinely excited, he said. He attributed the long-running success to its founder, Peter Kearns, and his zany sense of humor.

"He ignited such a spark. It's definitely worth keeping this going," he said.

The way Kearns told the story, the whole thing started with a mechanic having a bad day. The employee lost his temper and chucked the garage's miniature Christmas tree across the parking lot, which struck a chord with Kearns. He immediately recognized the catharsis it offered from holiday stress and the undeniable fun of seeing who could hurl a pine tree the farthest. It wasn't long before he tied it to a charity.

Mary Kearns-Gilroy said that mix of mischief and helping others was typical of her late brother, who died in 2016 in a diving accident. Family barbeques would turn into backyard Olympics involving mattress races, and he would set aside his tips to help people in need. The extended Kearns family hasn't missed a Christmas tree toss since his passing so they can celebrate Peter, his dedication to others and his love of the absurd.

"It's nice that he's remembered. Mike has done a fantastic job. He thought the world of Peter, and he thought the world of him."
Mary Kearns-Gillroy

"It's nice that he's remembered. Mike has done a fantastic job. He thought the world of Peter, and he thought the world of him," Kearns-Gilroy said.

The event has evolved over the years. Police no longer shut down Stefko Boulevard so the ragtag crew can parade a quarter-mile carrying lawn ornaments — not all of them Christmas-related. The whiskey doesn't flow as freely, and the ceremonial goat is gone. But that hasn't put a damper on things. DeCrosta said Saturday's event was the biggest since the pandemic, and he hopes to see it grow bigger.

He issued a challenge to Custom Diesel Center in Allentown, which hosted a copycat event Friday.

"If they would be interested, I would love to meet them at a neutral facility. Maybe we could raise money for two charities and turn this into an even bigger event," he said.

DeCrosta encouraged those who couldn't attend the annual toss to donate directly to Turning Point through their website.