They call it Christmas Town USA, and for good reason.
Starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, McAdenville, a tiny town in eastern Gaston County (population 650 or so), will move into the spotlight (emphasis on the light) for 26 days. For its 60th consecutive year, the old mill village will sparkle with more than 500,000 holiday lights that line trees, homes, wreaths and streets.
Christmas music will play in the background as motorists take a 1-mile drive through downtown McAdenville, decked in an assortment of glowing colors. Some guests who find a parking space will walk the route.
And many, many people will shout, “Merry Christmas.”
The event, which has garnered national accolades, draws more than 600,000 visitors a year. The bonus: It’s all free.
Here are some things you should know to help you navigate the route this year:
What is it
Christmas Town USA owes its origins to a yarn maker.
Pharr Yarns, the town’s major industrial nexus, has sponsored the celebration since 1956, when the McAdenville Men’s Club decided to light a few trees a round the McAdenville Community Center. They decorated nine trees that first year.
The effort caught on. With backing from company president William J. Pharr and decorative input from his wife, Catherine, the light show grew into an annual celebration that now features 375 trees adorned with red, white and green lights, along with a lighted image of Old Man Winter blowing snowflakes, a display of Santa and his reindeer and a life-size nativity scene.
Find more information at www.mcadenville-christmastown.com
Where is it
One of the fastest ways to get to McAdenville from Charlotte is to hop on Interstate 85 south and get off at Exit 23. Or, you can take I-85 south to Exit 27 in Belmont.
But if you prefer the scenic route, drive west on U.S. 29-74 (Wilkinson Boulevard), cross the Catawba River and then the South Fork River and turn right onto Wesleyan Drive in McAdenville.
When to go
The light show starts every evening at dusk and lasts until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Take note of those times. The lights run on a timer and will go off regardless of the number of cars in line.
Event organizers suggest visiting Monday through Thursday. Weekend nights bring a big spike in traffic that can prove cumbersome.
The celebration ends Dec. 26.
In life, there are things you just can’t avoid: Death, taxes and traffic at Christmas Town USA.
Some preparation beforehand might help you with the last one.
If you can’t make it to McAdenville until Friday night, you’re going to run into bumper-to-bumper slowdowns on the road. So, fill your gas tank and bring a snack. There’s only one route through Christmas Town, and a weekend tour can easily take 45 minutes, if not longer.
If you’re up for the walk, consider arriving early so you can snatch a free parking spot in town that will put you close to the heart of the light show.
And consider downloading the Christmas Town USA app. It will help you navigate the route, find parking spots and stay in-the-know on when the lights might shut off for the night.
What else is there
If thousands of sparkling Christmas lights don’t put you in the holiday spirit, no worries. Christmas Town has other offerings.
Take, for example, the official tree lighting ceremony Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Pharr Family YMCA. Each year, the winner of McAdenville Elementary School contest will pull the big switch that lights the entire display at 6 p.m. That winner will be announced at the ceremony.
There’s also the Yule Log Parade on Dec. 18. Children will pull a sled through town to Legacy Park on Elm Street in downtown McAdenville. Organizers will set the log ablaze to kick off the Christmas Town Festival. School and church choirs will perform at the festival.
I hear Santa Claus might make an appearance, too.