Many people send out the old year—and the end of the long holiday season—with a champagne toast at a glitzy New Year’s Eve party. But Manitou Springs, a town of less than 5,000 nestled at the base of Pikes Peak, has adopted a more novel tradition. The “Manitoids” (as the local residents are known) wait until the end of January, when everyone is totally sick of holiday leftovers, and then literally toss out the worst offender—the much-maligned fruitcake—in a series fun-spirited games and events.
These dense, tooth-cracking concoctions embedded with chunks of glow-in-the-dark fruit and chopped nuts are legendary in holiday lore. Just why these cakes have such a bad rap has been the subject of spirited speculation, but it’s probably due to jokes made by Johnny Carson, who once said that there’s really only one fruitcake in the world—and it keeps getting passed between households.
That’s clearly not true in Manitou Springs, where twenty-odd years ago residents began gathering to chuck dozens of the booze-soaked cakes. The idea came about in the mid-1990s, when a group of volunteers was brainstorming enjoyable events that would bring visitors into town during the offseason. Somehow, says Leslie Lewis, executive director of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, the conversation turned to fruitcake, and one of the volunteers declared that she always tossed hers away. That simple statement, said Lewis, inspired the town’s nutty event.
The first tosses were held in the center of town, but as the festival grew, so did the number of competitions. Soon, the Manitoids were launching the hapless desserts aloft via catapults and other mechanical devices—and in the process, hitting local businesses and houses. The event then shifted to the high school track, where there were fewer buildings to damage, but hardly any participants spent much time—or money—in the town afterwards, and the event was briefly discontinued. But like the stale desserts, such traditions are hard to get rid of, so after a short hiatus, a dedicated group of residents brought the festival (and perhaps some of the same fruitcakes) back to the downtown.
Although there are no longer any catapults, this year’s Great Fruitcake Toss will feature fun events for all ages and abilities, from the traditional distance and clocked speed competitions to the increasingly difficult toss-through-a-hoop accuracy event. There’s also the Best Balance contest, in which competitors race around a preset course trying to balance their not-so-fluffy fruitcakes on a spatula. For those brave souls who make their own fruitcake and are willing to admit it, there’s also a “Too Good to Toss” bake-off, the winner of which earns the esteemed “Fruitcake King or Queen” title and all the corresponding bragging rights—for all the good that does!
If you go: The Great Fruitcake Toss takes place Saturday, January 27 from 1–3 p.m. in Manitou Spring’s Memorial Park, 502 Manitou Ave. The event is free, but attendees are asked to bring one non-perishable food item to benefit the Manitou Springs Community Pantry. Fruitcakes are available “for rent” for $1. If you’d like to extend your trip into a weekend getaway, the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce is offering a “Shop Manitou, Ski Monarch” special where you get 40 percent off an adult lift ticket for every $75 spent in town, including at hotels and restaurants.