The town of McAdenville, North Carolina, is named "Christmas Town USA" with good reason. Each winter, the small town comes alive with a fantastic light display that draws in over 600,000 visitors annually.
Located about 15 miles west of Charlotte, this tiny town full of the Christmas spirit has had an over-the-top lighting tradition since 1956. The town of McAdenville itself puts up over 500,000 lights, and the majority of residents decorate their houses to an extravagant degree as well.
McAdenville has gained plenty of national recognition, with USA Today, Time Magazine, and Southern Living Magazine counting it among the top holiday destinations in the nation. Good Morning America and numerous other local news stations have broadcast live from the town as well.
Christmas Town USA History
It all began in 1956 when the McAdenville Men's Club used Christmas-colored lights on nine trees near the local community center; next, the men decorated trees around the lake. Every year, more trees were adorned, and by 2004, almost 400 trees were lit in the area. Over time, the event has turned into something about much more than trees: Residents decorate their homes, lampposts hold lovely wreaths, holiday music plays, and a huge display of Santa Claus and his reindeer all bring additional cheer.
The Christmas lights will glow every night starting on December 2, 2019—when the lighting ceremony takes place on the town plaza in front of the Pharr Family YMCA—until the night after Christmas. The ceremony is usually held on a Saturday, but since the school children are involved, the town holds the festivities on a day when school is in session.
Since the entire town makes up the light display, there is no charge to see the lights. You're just driving through a public city filled with the glow of Christmas.
It's recommended to visit the town between Monday and Thursday nights, as Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights are much higher in traffic. The approximately 1.3 mile-long (2 kilometers) route may take about 30–45 minutes to drive on weekends; on most weeknights, it will be quicker.
Getting to McAdenville
There are a few ways to access McAdenville during the Christmas lights season. From the Gastonia area, take North Carolina Highway 7, U.S. Route 29-74 East, or Interstate 85 North. If you are coming from the Charlotte area, take U.S. Route 29/74 South and West or Interstate 85 South.
Plugging "McAdenville" into your GPS or a mapping service may take you to the actual McAdenville exit on Interstate 85, which will be closed during the event. Of course, if you're even in the vicinity of the Interstate 85 or U.S. Route 29/74, you won't miss the town or signs. For detailed instructions and ways to avoid traffic jams, see the Christmas Town USA directions.
Walking or Driving Through McAdenville
Many locals believe that walking through town is the best way to experience the city and make a family tradition out of the walk. Church and Academy, two dead-end streets near McAdenville Elementary School, will be closed to cars but open to pedestrians. If you plan to stroll around, your best bet is to park in one of the four free parking areas in town:
- Behind the McAdenville Baptist Church/CaroMont Family Medicine
- Behind the small business area on Poplar Street
- Beside the lake in the heart of Christmas Town USA
- Next to the McAdenville Elementary School (easy if you are entering from U.S. Route 29-74)