Welcome to McAdenville: Christmas Town, USA
On December evenings, when the weather forecast is merry and bright, one tiny town in North Carolina transforms into Christmas Town, USA.
McAdenville. Perhaps you’ve never heard of the textile town-turned-holiday tradition, or perhaps you have experienced the spectacular Christmas display each year since childhood. Regardless, this town just west of Charlotte thrives on putting the “merry” in Christmas, with a community-wide decorating effort that began in 1956 with nine adorned trees and has metamorphosed into a nationally recognized holiday attraction.
Each year, from Dec. 1-26, visitors from far and wide come to discover their holiday spirit in McAdenville’s quaint community. Homes are decked out in Christmas finery, nativity scenes abound, and trees are lit with red, white and green lights. Passersby revel in the free holiday display while winding along the neighborhood tour, which ends in a crescendo at the lake, ringed with 33 decorated trees and an illuminated fountain.
The tradition traces its roots to the McAdenville Men’s Club, which in 1956 requested permission from town officials, including W.J. Pharr, president of Pharr Yarns, to decorate trees around the McAdenville Community Center. Pharr’s wife suggested they use traditional red, white and green lights only, and so the custom began.
More than 50 years later, McAdenville displays more than 200 wreaths and decorates over 375 live trees, as thousands upon thousands of lights illuminate the town.
For many, the holiday splendor is reason enough to move here. Linda Blackledge and her husband, Rick, both grew up in Gaston County, and as children celebrated the holidays with trips to McAdenville. They continued the tradition with their two sons, enjoying the lights every Christmas Eve and then opening presents when they arrived home that night.
On Jan. 19, 2007, the Blackledges decided to make the custom even more personal, moving into the newer portion of town, known as McAdenville Village.
“Our sons had married and moved away, and we needed to downsize,” Blackledge explains. “We have always loved McAdenville, so when they decided to rebuild, we were the first ones on our side of Wesleyan Drive. They called us pioneers!”
The Blackledges chose their lot on Wesleyan Drive in order to be on the main route. Linda notes that at closing, the couple signed a covenant stating they would decorate with red, white and green lights only, and keep their lights on during the month of December. And even though there are a few inconveniences as a result of living in the heart of a holiday attraction – mainly, road congestion for the month of December – Blackledge says the pros outweigh the cons.
“Being on the route for lights is so much fun for us!” she says. “Everyone is in such a festive Christmas spirit. They decorate their cars, pile up on hayrides, sing carols along the way, dress up like Santa Claus, and walk or ride by. It is heartwarming to be outside and hear the shouts of ‘Merry Christmas,’ along with singing and the laughter of children.”
She adds, “We have a nativity scene in our yard to represent the true meaning of Christmas, and time and again we are thanked by strangers for that display. We sometimes watch from inside as people stand in front and take photos of themselves and children with the scene.”
The tradition of McAdenville is entrenched in the hearts of visitors around the world, and has been publicized in countries as far away as Germany and France.
Today, the Blackledges enjoy the holidays with a little help from Christmas Town, USA.
“We still gather our entire family, including seven grandchildren, on Christmas Eve and enjoy the festivities happening outside our home while we celebrate Christmas,” Blackledge says. “We are making awesome memories for our grandchildren!”
Tips for Enjoying McAdenville During the Holidays
Photographer Steve Rankin, a longtime resident of McAdenville, runs the town’s official website. He says the best days to visit McAdenville are Monday through Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the heaviest traveled days; if you arrive in town at 7 p.m. or later on those nights, you might miss the lights.
Can’t come unless it’s a weekend? Rankin suggests arriving in town before the lights come on – that is, before 5:30 p.m. – and parking. “Traffic is usually backed up for miles on I-85 southbound lanes and US-29/74 westbound lanes,” he says. “If you visit on the weekend, please have lots of patience.”
He says walking through town is the best way to enjoy the lights. “As you walk, you can enjoy the beautiful music being played from the McAdenville Baptist Church,” he says. “You also can walk the back streets where tour buses and automobiles are not allowed.”
He encourages visitors to explore the newer portion of town, between the McAdenville Elementary School and the lake. “Residents in the ‘newer’ part of town really go all out decorating their homes,” he says.
Three large parking lots are available for those who don’t mind waiting and/or walking:
- Behind the McAdenville Baptist Church
- Behind the Village Restaurant
- Beside the lake in the center of town
Visit mcadenville-christmastown.com for information.
– Karsen Price