Americans across the country are currently revisiting their Christmas traditions with full hearts. Every December families wander through acres of manmade wilderness in search of the perfect bristly evergreen, string freshly popped corn onto red and green thread, excavate their attics in search of well-worn boxes teeming with tinsel and ornaments, bake cookies and cakes and pies—and pile into cars and minivans, hot cocoa in hand, and tour the streets to admire the light-bedecked houses that stand out against the dim backdrop of suburban neighborhoods. Lovers of this last tradition, those of us who “ooh” and “ahh” at the glowing clusters of plastic icicles that drip from eaves, make an annual pilgrimage to the meridian of Christmas cheer. Nestled in the heart of North Carolina sits a town so full of the holiday spirit that it rivals the North Pole itself. For one month every year, McAdenville North Carolina transforms into Christmastown, USA.
Christmastown was born from a simple idea. Over fifty years ago, in 1956, the McAdenville Men’s Club ingenuously proposed to decorate a few of the trees outside the McAdenville Community Center with lights in honor of the holiday season. After consulting town officials, as well as Mr. W.J. Pharr, president of local Pharr Yarns, the McAdenville Men’s Club executed their plan—with the help of Mrs. Pharr, who suggested the use of green, red, and white lights, the traditional Christmas colorwheel. In 1956 the Men’s Club adorned nine trees with lights and McAdenville locals have continued to grow the tradition every year since. Today visitors to McAdenville will enjoy the sight of 375 festooned trees in addition to a bevy of other Christmas spectaculars.
Every year locals throughout McAdenville volunteer to deck the town in lights and holiday decor in preparation for the conversion to Christmastown on the first of December. The event draws over 600,000 visitors to the city through the final month of the year. Despite its popularity, McAdenville has never charged a fee to visiting tourists, the entire show is put together entirely by the work of volunteers, and Pharr Yarns, which is still the largest land owner and employer in the town, picks up the tab on the electric bill. The town transfigures into a winter wonderland, its trees sparkling with thousands of tiny bulbs and each of its 200 lampposts dressed for the season with fresh wreaths.
The lake, located at the center of the quaint town, steals the hearts of visitors with its theatrical Christmas display. The thirty trees lining its banks glisten doubly bright with their reflections shining on the water, while a fountain in the center of the lake is lit from within so that it shines with pulsating Christmas colors. Nearby, a lighted image of Old Man Winter blows frosted snowflakes into the chill air. The town also constructs a life-sized nativity scene and a nine-foot-tall Santa driving his thoroughly-lit reindeer. The whole community gets into the spirit with each homeowner dressing up his house with its own personal Christmas flair. And, as a final touch, the McAdenville Baptist Church plays Christmas carols on chimes from their steeple so that the gentle sounds of holiday cheer permeate the town.
The light show is not the only Christmas tradition McAdenville offers. Since 1950 the town has started off the season with the Yule Log Parade. During the parade, children pull a sled topped with a yule log through the streets of town. Residents and visitors follow the trail made by the Pied-Piper of Yule to Legacy Park, where the log is then lit and the audience joins together in the singing of Christmas carols.
Whether you wander the magical town on foot or wonder at the show behind the fogged glass of car windows, McAdenville is sure to fill your heart with Christmas cheer. So send your apologies to Grandma, because with this Christmas miracle such a short drive away, it’s over the river and through the woods to Christmastown we go!