Most times of the year, McAdenville registers as a hamlet off I-85, between Belmont and Gastonia.

That changes abruptly as the holidays approach. Its 650 or so residents go all-out to convert McAdenville into Christmas Town USA – an achievement that lights the nights and attracts thousands of visitors.

The illumination began in the 1950s with nine trees. The event expanded over the years; now, about 600,000 visitors (three-fourths from outside Gaston County) come to see the 375-plus trees strung with roughly 450,000 red, green or white lights. The event is so large that planning begins in summer.

The celebration – Dec. 1-26 this year – is an $11.8 million breadwinner, according to an economic impact survey. The money is not from admission: The route is free to drive. And that can take a while. Unless you’re a resident, you can access the route one of two ways: off N.C. 7 (Main Street) via Lowell, or from U.S. 74. Be aware that driving the route, a bit more than a half-mile, can be slow (10 or 15 mph or less), especially on weekends.

You can catch the glow 5:30-9:30 p.m. weekdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

A classic view is right in the middle of the route (and in the middle of town), where McAdenville’s pond shimmers with lights reflected from more than 30 trees.

You may want to walk the route instead. Park in the lot directly behind Main Street or the lot at the YMCA.

The two-part Christmas Town Festival starts with the tree-lighting ceremony at Legacy Park, downtown on Elm Street at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 1 (a Monday). When the switch is flipped, McAdenville’s light show officially begins. The other aspect of the festival is the Yule Log Parade and Ceremony on Dec. 19 (a Friday), which begins at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Pharr Yarn main offices. The parade – it’s actually a tradition six years older than the illumination – steps off at 5:45 p.m. on its quarter-mile route to Legacy Park.

In the procession, local kids pull the yule log on a wheeled ceremonial sleigh to the fireplace in Legacy Park, where the log is lit. Then choirs and school bands play holiday tunes and there’s free kettle corn and hot chocolate for everyone.

P.S. Need an unofficial preview? The ChristmasTown 5K ( will be held the evening of Nov. 29, and the race route goes through downtown McAdenville, where the holiday lights will also get a test run.

Details: John Bordsen