A common complaint is that the Christmas season is overrun with commercialism.
We mark Advent by the number of shopping days left. We feel pressure to make our homes look like Martha Stewart specials. It's exhausting.
Escape is possible, if only for an afternoon. Treat yourself to the Cat Square Christmas parade on Dec. 10.
Typically, a parade is an event to which the most distinguished, exemplary members of a community - pageant winners, government officials, members of civic organizations - gussy up and ride down the center of town to be admired.
In most places, if that's your idea of what a parade is, you'd be right. At Cat Square, you'd be half-right.
There are throngs. Oh, how there are throngs! And there are dignitaries: Little Misses, Shriners and their miniature cars, high school bands and the like.
But, despite the name, there is no town square. Instead, there is a crossroads where a cross-section of Lincoln County and surrounding communities gathers for the most spectacular Christmas parade you've ever seen.
You drive west from Lincolnton along country roads, thinking no more than half a dozen souls could possibly gather in so remote a location.
Just when you think you might have missed a turn somewhere, you begin to see little smatterings of a crowd.
Folks in folding chairs surround portable grills: It's a linear tailgate party that begins hours before the official parade. Closer to the parade route, people fill the driveways and cover the shoulders of the road. Anyone can enter the Cat Square parade, and, at some point, everyone has.
One year, a lady blew bubbles as she advanced on roller skates. The term "float" is interpreted loosely, and you may see anything from a full-size wooden automobile on a trailer - hauling Santa Claus, of course - to dune buggy-type vehicles ("Big Dixie Boggers") that climb each other.
There are tractors. There are fire trucks and even big rigs. There are vehicles that defy description and the prudent use of spray paint.
At 2 p.m., those closest to the start will hear the drums of the first marching band. Before long, the motley procession makes its way past your seat, dazzling your eyes and ears with its variety and novelty.
The most spectacular thing about this event, though, is the candy. Bring a bag. Bring a much bigger bag than you took trick-or-treating a few weeks ago.
Almost every organization involved in the Cat Square parade, apparently, believes the best way to represent itself as a member in good standing in the community is to fling copious amounts of individually wrapped treats at the masses.
Try not to get trampled, children, as the next wave of the parade arrives while you are still frantically collecting handfuls of peppermints that have rained down from the royal hands of the Christmas Queen.
Just be sure to collect all the candy from the road before the final act: the horses.
Practically every horse owner in western North Carolina enters the Cat Square parade. After the sensory blast of the preceding few hours, the horses are a welcome sight. Hundreds of beautiful, giant animals march silently down the road in the fading afternoon light.
And in the comparatively quiet atmosphere of the horse procession, one could even argue that the Cat Square Parade honors the true spirit of Christmas.
The journey to Cat Square is a kind of pilgrimage to a place where people are gathered for a joyous event. The event celebrates not one holy child but, instead, the joy of hundreds of children.
Everyone, regardless of their station in life, is welcome. There is even a drummer boy, or six. Most of all, the parade is a glorification of the sheer variety of God's kingdom and what's possible when one has a bit of extra spray paint, a trailer and too much free time.
In a world where Christmas is not only commercialized but also largely homogenized, the Cat Square parade is refreshing. There's no pressure to tastefully decorate your home, bake the perfect cookies or buy the perfect gift.
True, there's nothing particularly reverent about it, either. But for a few hundred people in Lincoln County, it's a sacred tradition.