Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on October 13, 2023.
The astounding McAdenville Christmas lights that appear each December deservedly earn the small town its Christmas Town USA nickname. These are the most popular Christmas lights in North Carolina, thanks to more than half a million twinkling lights and 100 homes decorated for the holiday season.
Seeing Christmas Town USA is undoubtedly on many people’s holiday bucket list, and we have all the tips you’ll need for an excellent and memorable evening.
We’ve organized this article to contain:
- Where is McAdenville Christmas Town USA?
- History of McAdenville
- Today’s “Christmas Town USA”
- When is the McAdenville Christmas lights display?
- Christmas Town USA Events
- Should You Drive or Park?
- Where to Park?
- How to See the McAdenville Christmas Lights (10+ Tips)
You can skip ahead to any section of this guide or continue reading some interesting facts about McAdenville Christmas lights.
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Where is McAdenville Christmas Town USA?
- McAdenville is a small-town community in Gaston County, North Carolina (near Gastonia)
- McAdenville is west of Charlotte and along Interstate 85 (Exit 23).
- The small town is also near historic Belmont and Cramerton, and both are excellent places to dine before or after visiting Christmas Town NC.
- 85 acres of the town is designated as a Historic District. It is one of the finest examples of Southern-Style American homes.
- The town shines with holiday lights from December 1 to 26 from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm.
- There are over 100 decorated homes along a 1.3-mile route. Expect to see more than 250 evergreens covered with more than half a million white and green lights.
- It’s easily one of the best Christmas towns in the USA
- Our absolute favorite part of the McAdenville Christmas lights are the displays that surround the lake. The fountain changes colors while the Historic McAden Mill Bell Tower plays Christmas carols.
- While Christmastime is the most popular time of year to visit McAdenville, there’s a thriving downtown community with great shops and restaurants in the historic downtown. There is also river access to the South Fork River and trails that offer outdoor recreation.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Charlotte
Christmas Town USA History
Who pays for the half-million lights of Christmas Town USA? Well, Pharr Yarns does.
Cofounder William Pharr arrived in McAdenville in 1939. He purchased three previously empty mills and multiple homes, reinvigorating the town that had fallen on hard times.
Nearly 20 years later (1956), The Men’s Club decided to string red, white, and green lights up around town. Pharr stepped in again to help McAdenville, declaring that his mill would cover the cost of those lights.
Several years after the light displays were started, the community members began decorating their porches with red, white, and green lights.
The goal from the beginning was to be a free community event, and for nearly 70 years, it has continued to exemplify that. The town of 800 residents welcomes more than 600k visitors each December, and many of the local businesses stay open late just for the event.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Christmas Town in North Carolina reached national news. Rising to fame first on The Charles Kuralt Morning Show, the town has been featured on Good Morning America and other news outlets.
Christmas Town USA Today
Christmas Town USA started small, but massive displays adorn many of the houses in McAdenville. The December event is a community-wide effort with lots of planning. Many of the residents plan their holiday displays for months, some since the moment they finished taking down last year’s lights.
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When is the McAdenville NC Christmas Lights Display?
Hailed by many as the best Christmas lights in North Carolina, McAdenville’s Christmas displays are an annual tradition.
As we mentioned in the “Quick Guide” section, Christmas Town USA lights up from December 1 to 26 from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm sharp each night, every year.
The lights are timer-set and promptly go off at 10:00 pm, so plan accordingly.
Christmas Town USA Events
- While many of us are stuffed to the top with Turkey, McAdenville starts the holiday off with an annual 5K the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Produced by the Women’s Club, all proceeds from the race go directly back into the community, including college scholarships.
- Kicking off the holiday season is the Tree Lighting Ceremony, which takes place annually on December 1. The community and visitors all come together and flip the switch to celebrating the beginning of the holidays. Santa even makes a special appearance!
- Paying tribute to the small-town spirit, the Yule Log Parade occurs on December 14. An annual tradition since 1949, the parade is a sight to see! Of course, this isn’t your typical parade. Since 1950, the children of McAdenville load a Yule log onto a special sled and drag it through town. Once the children (and the log) reach the end of the parade, the log is burned, and the tradition lives on in warm hearts.
- Come ready to enjoy the parade and keep your vocal cords fresh for caroling, which starts at 5:30 pm.
Should You Drive or Park to See the McAdenville Christmas Lights?
You do not need to buy McAdenville lights tickets, but there is much debate and many opinions on the best way to view the McAdenville Christmas lights.
Based on our personal experience, we recommend you park and walk.
Driving is a convenient way to see the lights, especially with a large group, but we think there is a lot more to see if you park and walk. Here are a few reasons we think walking is a better option:
- Some of the houses have things that you can’t see from your car, including a train display and opportunities for photos with Santa.
- Walking also allows you to speak with some owners and really feel the Christmas Town USA vibe!
- Also, walking ensures that you can stop into some local businesses and contribute back to this small town to put on such an excellent holiday experience.
Okay, Where Do You Park in Christmas Town USA?
Please try to arrive early and plan to enter “the back way” via US Highway 74 instead of I-85.
There is only one route in and out of the town, which the local police departments will direct. If you get in line, you won’t have a way to get out.
The town recommends the following locations for parking, and you will not be towed for parking:
- Behind the McAdenville Baptist Church/Caromont Clinic.
- Poplar Street, behind the business district of McAdenville.
- Next to the lake in the heart of Christmas Town USA.
- McAdenville Elementary School.
We once received a local tip to park at the Food Lion in Cramerton along Hwy 74. Now, this isn’t official advice, but we did not get towed.
Would I do it again? Probably not.
Instead, I would suggest parking at McAdenville Elementary School because it is closer and designated as a safe place to park.
Did I see other people parking at the Food Lion? Yes. Maybe it’s a local secret, but you’ll be parking there at your own risk!
How to See McAdenville Christmas Lights (10+ Tips)
- Arrive early in McAdenville and enjoy a better parking spot.
- Our tips for traveling are always to arrive early and go during the week. Weekends are always the busiest, and you can expect delays and traffic visiting McAdenville.
- In particular, we recommend avoiding I-85 around McAdenville during the holiday season as the traffic is often backed up on the interstate waiting to drive through the light displays.
- Thank the local police department who help to direct traffic!
- Also, remember that if you plan to walk through Christmas Town USA, please stay on the sidewalks.
- Finally, respect the homes that are decorated. Many residents spend hours and lots of money on decorating for the season, so do not approach their front doors and allow them privacy during your visit. They love the holiday season as much as you do. However, they also like to eat dinner sometimes without an audience!
- Don’t forget to support the local businesses!
- Grab a delicious dinner from Terra Mia Ristorante.
- Shop at Mona’s Boutiques and Gifts and Revolver Records.
- Stop into Floyd & Blackie’s Bakery for some scrumptious dessert!
- Keep coming back every year!
More Things to Do Nearby
If you want to make it an extended stay, we recommend looking into Belmont or Gastonia. You’ll find familiar chain hotels in Belmont and some boutique options in Gastonia, including The York Chester Inn.
We’ve also created NC travel guides to this area beyond Christmas Town USA. Here are a few of them.