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    Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
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    Biltmore Estate
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    Christmas at Billy Graham Library.
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    Harold Hinson

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    Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas
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    Christmas Town USA

Top holiday destinations

By Elisabeth Arriero

Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012

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Holidays at the Garden

This year, for the first time, visitors to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden will get to satisfy their sweet tooth as they admire the garden’s famed 30-foot Christmas tree. Daniel Stowe is offering hot and gooey s’mores for guests to indulge as they take in the holiday in the garden. “This is a personal experience,” says the Garden’s marking associate, Tom Gardner. “It’s something you can do walking hand in hand with your spouse.”

In addition to the traditional tree, guests can also take in the sights like the 16-foot Orchid Tree covered in a vibrantly colored array of more than 300 pink, yellow, purple and other orchids, all gathered to form the silhouette of an evergreen. Outside the cozy visitor pavilion where the Orchid Tree stands tall, patrons can enjoy a quiet stroll among tranquil, holiday-inspired walkways or take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the property. Tram rides offer another way to tour the property to witness the 500,000 Christmas lights that glow across the grounds. And every night, some of Garden staff helps patrons learn an easy, family-friendly holiday craft.

The popular event, which has grown to more than 20,000 annual visitors, offers a family-friendly evening perfect for soaking up the holiday spirit.

Where: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont
When: 12-9 p.m. every day Nov. 23 through Dec. 31; closed on Dec. 25
General admission price: Adults, $12; Seniors 60+, $11; Children 4-12, $6. Carriage rides are not included with general admission and are $6.50 for adults and $4.50 for children ages 4 to 12.
Attractions: Carriage rides, Christmas crafts, visit with Santa, orchid tree, train displays, holiday tea, tram rides
More information: 704-825-4490, www.dsbg.org.

Christmas at the Library

Celebrate a traditional Christmas with a visit to the Billy Graham Library this December. Nestled in a peaceful setting in west Charlotte, the Library offers residents a return to basics, a Christian celebration tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the season.

With the help of an elaborate and ever-changing live nativity scene, the library brings the gospel to life. This year, patrons will have the opportunity to visit with such exotic animals as a nilgai (antelope) and a yak.

“We hear from the parents about how special it is for their children to see the stories come to life through the live nativity,” says Debra Cordial, director of the Library. “To see their faces light up – it’s really amazing.”

Now in its fifth year, Christmas at the Library encourages residents to take a carriage ride around the property, listen to carolers sing classic holiday tunes and even sit down for children’s story time.

As a new addition to the event, the first 300 patrons in line will also enjoy a Christmas dinner at the Library each night, complete with all the traditional fixings. During part of the week, church groups of more than 100 people can reserve a private dinner. And as a keepsake, visitors can sit atop a horse-drawn carriage in front of shimmering Christmas trees for a commemorative photo.

“This is a unique opportunity to be able to present the gospel to this many people all at one time,” says Cordial, noting that nearly 60,000 people visited last year. “Our focus is the birth of Jesus Christ and that’s what we’re here for.”

Where: Billy Graham Library, 4330 Westmont Drive, Charlotte
When: Dec. 1-22. Mon.-Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Christmas activities begin at 5 p.m. every day. Closed on Sundays.
General admission price: $10 per vehicle after 3 p.m.; Dinner (not included in general admission), $14.95 for adults and $7.95 for children 3-12.
Attractions: Carriage rides, live nativity, carolers, story time with the kids, Christmas dinner.
More information: 704-401-3200, www.billygrahamlibrary.org.

Christmas at Biltmore

This Asheville mansion will likely put your holiday decorations to shame, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the splendor of the largest private home in the country. 70,000 visitors a day travel to see the stunning Biltmore Estate during Christmastime.

With miles of ribbon, dozens of Christmas trees and candlelight tours, the Biltmore is the always a premium holiday destination, and this year, the estate’s paintings and tapestries served as inspiration for the holiday decorations, with many of them pulling from the same color schemes and patterns. “The full illumination of the estate ... really keeps the ambiance going,” says Jen Santa (yes, that’s her real name), a reservation and ticket center associate.

During the popular Raising of the Tree ceremony each year, Santa Claus pulls a tree on a wagon up to the estate while Mrs. Claus greets all the guests. That tree is raised in the banquet hall, while a tree that’s almost twice as large towers over the front lawn of the estate.

Children hoping to share their holiday wishes with Saint Nick will have a chance to do so every afternoon through Dec. 23 near the estate’s winery.

Santa says that Christmastime is the biggest time of the year for the estate, which was officially completed in 1895. If nothing else, residents should come to marvel at the sheer feat the estate accomplishes every holiday season – decorating 175,000 square feet can’t be easy.

Where: The Biltmore Estate, 1 Lodge St., Asheville.
When: Nov. 3-Jan. 1; hours vary considerably
General admission price: Prices for adults, $59-79, depending on date and time of day. Prices vary for children under the age of 17.
Attractions: Candlelight tours, visit with Santa Claus, carolers, holiday crafts.
More information: 800-411-3812, www.biltmore.com.

Christmas Town USA

Every year, the small Gaston County town of McAdenville— along with the employees at its textile company Pharr Yarns— join forces to show the world exactly why they’ve earned the moniker Christmas Town USA.

The town-wide tradition dates back to 1956 with just a few decorated Christmas trees, and now more than 600,000 visitors flood McAdenville each year to see the spectacular array of holiday lights, front yard Santa Clauses, elaborate wreath displays and spontaneous Christmas carolers.

Most patrons opt to enjoy the comfort of their climate-controlled cars while exploring the town’s main streets, but many choose to park their cars and take a stroll, enjoying the small-town charm and bigger-than-life holiday spirit.

McAdenville inspires many, from English filmmakers documenting American Christmas celebrations to Thomas Kinkade, the famous painter of light, who modeled one of his stunning paintings after the town. And what better backdrop for young love? A proposal set among the dazzling decorations is not uncommon in Christmas Town USA.

“It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life,” says Mel Collins, vice president of human resources at Pharr Yarns. “It’s like the small-town Christmas you remember from your childhood, and it’s still here.”

Now in its 57th year, the annual light celebration is certainly a labor of love for local residents. Starting each September, a dedicated group of workers spends three months stringing lights, and after the New Year, the group spends three months dismantling them. But all of that is worth it to see the glow on the faces of those experiencing Christmas Town USA for the first time, says Collins. “This is for the children and the young at heart.”

Where: McAdenville, NC, in Gaston County.
When: Nov. 30-Dec. 26; Mon.-Fri., 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.
General admission price: Free.
Attractions: On Nov. 30 and Dec. 14: Christmas lights throughout the town, carolers, tree lighting ceremony, Christmas Town festival, free hot chocolate and kettle corn, Yule Log parade. Other nights, drive through to enjoy the lighted village.
More information:704-824-3551, www.mcadenville-christmastown.com.

Carolina Christmas

The holiday splendor at Charlotte Motor Speedway is sure to appeal to every member of your family this holiday season: even the “soccer dads love to drive their minivans on turns one and two on the racetrack,” says speedway spokesman Scott Cooper of the largest drive-through lights park in the country.

Checkered flags, pit crews and sponsored vehicles are distant memories during the holiday season, as patrons can enjoy camel and pony rides, marshmallow roasting and photos with Santa Claus at this winter wonderland.

Everything is bigger and better at the speedway, and the Christmas show will be no exception with 3 million LED lights sparkling among more than 800 different displays with such themes as the space shuttle, Statue of Liberty and Candyland. And as part of the speedway’s newest 226 display additions, Santa will trade in racing around the world for a spin around the track in Santa’s Race Team display.

Meanwhile, the speedway’s popular music-light synchronization show from its inaugural year will return to the front-stretch grand stands. For the first time this year, enjoy a traditional spin around the ice-skating rink, thanks to a partnership with Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail.

“This is a wonderful event with a lot of universal appeal,” says Cooper. “You don’t have to be a race fan to enjoy Christmas lights and enjoy spending time with your family.”

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, 5555 Concord Parkway S., Concord.
When: Nov. 20-Dec. 30.
General admission price: Mon.-Wed., $15 for the drive-through light park. Thurs.-Sun., $20 per car, which includes the drive-through light park and Christmas village.
Attractions: Light village, Christmas themed movies, Christmas village, carnival rides, photos with Santa, marshmallow roasting, Bethlehem village, live nativity, petting zoo, camel and pony rides.
More information: 704-455-3239, www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

Trim the tree
Want to find that perfect Christmas tree to round out your holiday festivities? These N.C. destinations will get you in the spirit in no time.

Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm


Where: 143 Boyd Farm Road, Waynesville.
Amenities: Saws, restrooms, wrapping service, gift shop, cutting service.
Type of cutting available: Pre-cut, choose-and-cut.
Choose-and-cut tree types: Fraser Fir.
Pre-cut tree types: Fraser Fir.
Contact: 828-506-3513, www.boydmountain.com.

Cartner Christmas Tree Farm


Where: One Balsam Drive-Mt. Glen, Newland.
Amenities: Saws, restrooms, shaking service, Santa visits, school tours.
Type of cutting available: Choose-and-cut, wholesale.
Choose-and-cut tree types: Fraser Fir.
Contact: 828-733-2391, www.carolinafraserfir.com.

Cool Springs Nursery


Where: 230 Brownwood Road, Deep Gap.
Amenities: Saws, restrooms, wrapping service, gift shop, shaking service, hayrides, cutting service, school tours.
Type of cutting available: Choose-and-cut, wholesale.
Choose-and-cut tree types: Fraser Fir.
Contact: 828-898-8909, www.coolspringsnursery.com.

Mountain Memories Christmas Trees


Where: 252 Rocky Gap Road, West Jefferson.
Amenities: Hayrides, petting zoo, cutting service.
Type of cutting available: Choose-and-cut, wholesale.
Choose-and-cut tree types: Fraser Fir.
Contact: 336-246-7037, www.mountainmemorieschristmastrees.com.

Pine Top Farm


Where: 830 Majolica Road, Salisbury.
Amenities: Saws, restrooms, shaking service, hayrides, school tours.
Type of cutting available: Pre-cut, choose-and-cut.
Choose-and-cut tree types: Leyland Cypress, Scotch Pine, White Pine.
Pre-cut tree types: Scotch Pine, White Pine.
Contact: 704-637-7208.

Sugar Plum Farm


Where: 1263 Isaac Branch Road, Plumtree.
Amenities: Saws, restrooms, wrapping service, gift shop, shaking service, hayrides, Santa visits, cutting service, school tours.
Type of cutting available: Pre-cut, choose-and-cut.
Choose-and-cut tree types: Colorado Blue Spruce, Fraser Fir.
Pre-cut tree types: Fraser Fir.
Contact: 888-257-0019, www.sugarplumfarm.com.

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