In the little town of McAdenville, NC, everybody decorates for Christmas. Everybody.
McAdenville, which calls itself “Christmas Town USA,” expends serious effort trimming town-owned trees, lamp posts, and signs with Christmas garland and lights every December. But, if you ever get a chance to visit, you’ll notice one thing that makes the annual light display truly stand out: everybody in town gets on board.
Even in a small city with a population of only around 600 residents, you’d expect there’d be at least one Grinch. There’d have to be that one guy that’s going “I ain’t doin’ that again…” Or, worse still, the one guy who decides that he needs to fill his yard with aliens, dead reindeer, or messages about how the government has screwed him over. Yet, in McAdenville, every house and yard is trimmed with picturesque red, white, and green lights. It all looks so classy!
So how do they get everybody to participate? And how do they keep it looking classy? Is it some draconian Christmas ordinance? Is it the light police? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
A Little History
The Christmas decorating tradition in McAdenville started in 1956 when the town men’s club suggested decorating a few trees around the community center in order to celebrate the season. W. J. Pharr, owner of the local textile mill “Pharr Yarns” (and consequently the de facto owner of the town), had just gotten back from a trip to Europe, where he and his wife fell in love with the European Christmas traditions – so he was completely on board with the idea. In fact, he liked it so much that he’s reported to have said “I’ll pay for as many decorations as you boys can put up!” Mrs. Pharr, wanting to keep things classy, suggested the use of red, white, and green lights. So, that first year, nine trees were trimmed in red, white, and green… and a tradition was born.
Soon after, the town was lighting up more and more trees every year, and expanding the decorations away from the community center, around the lake, and through several of the streets in town. Pharr Yarns began subsidizing the town electric bills every Christmas, ensuring that nobody paid anything extra on their December bills for putting up lights. The residents loved participating and, before too long, people were traveling from miles around to see the lights!
Keeping It Alive
In 2014, nearly 60 years since the town decorated those first nine trees, the whole show still runs on a few simple things: tradition, Christmas spirit, and a little bit of generosity from Pharr Yarns, which has somehow escaped the plight of most NC textile companies. There are no draconian laws. No light police. No rules and regulations. Just a town full of people that love Christmas and like to decorate. In fact, many people now move to McAdenville specifically to participate in the annual decorating. With a populace that motivated, they don’t need any rules to keep people in line.
So, how big is the show? Well…
- The town alone puts up over half a million Christmas lights on over 375 trees (not counting what the residents themselves do)
- Over 600,000 people visit in over 300,000 vehicles each year, creating serious traffic backups along multiple I-85 exits
- If every visiting car was charged just $3 or $4, the town could easily cover all its budget expenses each year… but the display stays free
- Economic impact studies have suggested the light display brings in $11.8 million in economic activity for McAdenville and the surrounding areas
- The light display covers a 1.3-mile stretch of road that meanders through town… and every home is lit
So what are you waiting for? Head to McAdenville next year and enjoy the lights.
(Tip: If you want to go, get there early! Lines of traffic can get quite long. Better still, come an hour or so before sunset, park in town, and then walk through the light display!)