For approximately 340 days a year, the tiny town of McAdenville, North Carolina (population 900) is a quiet community with a charming little downtown area.
But every year from December 1-26, this quaint Charlotte suburb transforms into “Christmas Town USA,” one of the best Christmas light displays in North Carolina.
Ranked among the Top 10 Public Holiday Light Displays in the country by USA Today the last 3 years in a row, the Christmas Town USA celebration has roots dating back to 1956.
Christmas in McAdenville NC has grown exponentially over the past 66 years, from 9 decorated Christmas trees around the McAdenville Community Center to nearly 400 trees, 100+ homes, restaurants, shops, and more.
The community-focused event has also exploded in popularity, attracting some 300,000 visitors to the 1.4-square-mile town every year.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the Christmas Town USA celebration in McAdenville NC, including tips on when to go, where to park, how to see the Christmas lights, and other fun things to do there during the holidays.
McAdenville Christmas Lights Info
ADDRESS: 102 Main St, McAdenville NC 28101
COST OF ENTRY: Free
CHRISTMAS TOWN USA DATES: December 1-26
CHRISTMAS TOWN USA HOURS: Open from 5:30 PM until 10 PM nightly. Note that all Christmas Lights in McAdenville NC common areas are on pre-set timers, so the lights will go off at the appointed time regardless of how many cars remain in line.
PARKING IN McADENVILLE NC: There are 5 main parking areas in McAdenville, all of which are free. They include:
- Behind McAdenville Baptist Church (192 Main St)
- On Poplar Street, behind the Downtown McAdenville business district
- Beside the small lake, in the heart of Christmas Town USA (102 Main St)
- McAdenville Elementary School (275 Wesleyan Dr)
- The Catawba Riverkeeper location on Dickson Road
DRIVING DIRECTIONS FROM ASHEVILLE
From Asheville NC, head east on I-40 toward Statesville and follow it until you reach the exit onto US-321 S toward NC-127/Lincolnton.
Follow US-321 S for 32.9 miles, then use the left lane to take the ramp to I-85 N/Charlotte. Go 5.8 miles on I-85, then take exit 23 for NC-7 toward Lowell/McAdenville.
Turn right onto NC-7 E/Main St, and look for available parking areas.
Note that Exit 23 will be closed starting at 5:30 PM nightly during the McAdenville Christmas Town USA celebration. If you arrive after that, take Exit 22 and follow the signs to the town of McAdenville.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS FROM CHARLOTTE
Take I-85 S toward Gastonia NC for 11.8 miles, then take exit 23 for NC-7 toward Lowell/McAdenville.
Turn left onto NC-7 E/McAdenville Rd, which eventually turns into Main St.
Note that once traffic to the McAdenville Christmas lights backs up to the South Fork River bridge, NC Highway Patrol will redirect all vehicles across Hwy 7 back onto I-85 South.
If this happens, go one mile south to Exit 22, turn right, and follow the directions to McAdenville.
Christmas Town USA in McAdenville NC Guide
- Christmas Shopping at Mona’s Boutique
- Drink Hot Cocoa with Firemen
- Explore the McAdenville Christmas Lights
- Get Some Face Time with Santa Claus
- Grab a Drink at the River Room
- Have Dinner at Terra Mia Italian Restaurant
- Listen to the Carols of the McAden Mill Bell Tower
- McAdenville Lake Christmas Lights
- See the Nativity Scene
- Sweet Treats at Floyd and Blackie’s Bakery
- McAdenville NC Christmas FAQ
1. Christmas Shopping at Mona’s Boutique
If you’re looking to do some Christmas shopping before or after checking out the McAdenville lights, Mona’s Boutique & Gifts (121 Main St) is the place to go.
But note that when things get busy on peak weekends at Christmas, they will limit the number of people in the store at one time. So get there early if you don’t want to have to wait in line!
They have all sorts of intriguing items, from McAdenville NC souvenirs and t-shirts to colorful Christmas decor, Christmas ornaments, camping, and hiking gear (from big brands like Yeti), and much more.
The shop also has a charitable element and has given more than $20,000 to NGOs such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Disabled American Veterans, and the Gaston County Animal Shelter over the years.
2. Drink Hot Cocoa with Firemen
One of our favorite things about the McAdenville NC Christmas is the charming small-town feel, which gives it a homey Hallmark Christmas movie vibe.
For example, every year the Cramerton Fire Department gives out free hot chocolate at McAdenville Fire Station 40 (144 Wesleyan Dr) during the Christmas Town USA celebration.
The friendly firefighters greet locals and visitors alike with steaming cups of hot cocoa, which helps to warm your cockles on a chilly winter night!
There is no charge for the cocoa, but they do have a donation box out for those who want to contribute.
3. Explore the McAdenville Christmas Lights
We’ve visited dozens of Blue Ridge Mountain Towns in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia at Christmas time. Few can measure up to the sheer grandeur of the McAdenville NC Christmas lights.
Almost all the shops, public buildings, private homes, and restaurants in McAdenville are festively festooned with colorful lights, decorations, garlands, and wreaths.
You can choose to walk or drive the 1.3-mile route (we recommend walking), and many of the 100+ decorated homes look as if they were professionally designed.
There are more than half a million red, white, and green Christmas lights covering some 350+ evergreens lining the streets of the tiny town.
But the best part is the holiday spirit you’ll see on every passing face, as folks sing Christmas carols and shout “Merry Christmas!” from passing cars.
4. Get Some Face Time with Santa Claus
But Christmas in McAdenville NC is the only time we’ve ever seen jolly ol’ St. Nick set up for photo ops on someone’s front lawn.
We’re not comfortable giving out the addresses of private citizens, but the house is on Church St, with a life-sized sleigh, illuminated reindeer, and tons of Christmas lights all around.
There was no charge to pose with Santa, but there were also no professional photographers to take pictures. So bring a camera with a decent flash if you want to get a good shot!
5. Grab a Drink at the River Room
There are several fine breweries open during the McAdenville NC Christmas celebration. But The River Room (102 Main St) offers a festive atmosphere where you can grab a drink that benefits the local environment.
The taproom is owned by Catawba Riverkeeper, a local non-profit organization. So its proceeds go towards preserving, protecting, and restoring local rivers and other waterways.
All of their draft beer comes from breweries located in the Catawba-Wateree River Basin. And there are food trucks outside serving everything from BBQ and burgers to mini-donuts and fried Oreos.
6. Have Dinner at Terra Mia Italian Restaurant
There aren’t many restaurants in McAdenville NC to choose from.
So some folks recommend dining at restaurants in nearby towns (such as Cramerton or Gastonia) before you visit the tiny North Carolina Christmas town.
But if you prefer supporting the local economy, as we do, Terra Mia Italian Restaurant (129 1/2 Main St) is a fine option. They have an excellent location in Downtown McAdenville, a full bar, and a limited Christmas menu.
The fine dining restaurant is best known for its fresh-baked pizzas and rotating pasta selection. We enjoyed their traditional Meat Lasagna and Ravioli Classico with spinach and ricotta in a sage butter sauce.
But note that they get VERY busy on weekends during their peak Christmas season. We got there at 4 PM on Sunday to find a 45-minute wait but ultimately got sat at the bar fairly quickly.
7. Listen to the Carols of the McAden Mills Bell Tower
One of our favorite things about the McAdenville North Carolina Christmas celebration was the endless array of Christmas carols being played in the McAden Mills Bell Tower.
Located in the 85-acre McAdenville Historic District, the bell tower, medieval turrets, and castellated façade are all that remains of the second McAden Mill, which was built circa 1883.
When William Pharr (President of Pharr Yarns) moved to McAdenville in 1939, he bought empty textile mills, providing jobs and reviving the town after the Great Depression.
The local Men’s Club began putting up Christmas lights in McAdenville in 1956, with Pharr’s company footing the bill. And the Pharr Corporation (which got out of the textile business in 2019) continues to do so today.
No matter where you go in the NC Christmas town, you can hear the jubilant Christmas bells ringing out festive holiday classics the entire time the McAdenville lights are on!
READ MORE: The 10 Best Boone NC Christmas Tree Farms
8. McAdenville Lake Christmas Light Show
The McAden Mills Bell Tower is right next to this lovely little lake, which offers one of the best views of the Christmas lights in McAdenville.
If you approach from the side the bell tower and the River Room are on, head to the left around the lake’s shoreline for an exceptional view of dozens of lighted Christmas trees, which range in size from 12 to 40 feet tall.
There’s a huge fountain in the middle of the water that shoots high into the air, with lights changing its color from clear to red, then green every 10 seconds or so.
As you walk around the shoreline, the backdrop changes and the mirrored reflections of the Christmas lights from the surrounding houses and shops on the lake are truly spectacular!
9. See the Nativity Scene
The Christmas Town USA event has evolved quite a bit in the 65+ years since the McAdenville Men’s Club decided to decorate trees around the McAdenville Community Center.
This nationally-known celebration has grown from just 9 trees in 1956 to more than 375 trees today, with anywhere from 500 to 5,000+ Christmas lights covering each evergreen.
But those red, white, and green lights (which were originally suggested by William Pharr’s wife) remain the same, as does the town’s life-size Nativity scene.
The location of the manger has moved over the years. It’s now in a lot across from the McAdenville Baptist Church (192 Main St), with a lighted North Star perfectly placed in the trees above it.
10. Sweet Treats at Floyd and Blackie’s Bakery
The bakery offers an array of tasty cheesecakes, cupcakes, cookies, pies, Rice Krispie treats, and other delectable delights, as well as hot coffee, cocoa, and apple cider.
They’re also some of the friendliest folks we met during our time in McAdenville, with enough infectious Christmas cheer to power Santa’s sleigh!
11. McAdenville NC Christmas FAQ
Why is McAdenville NC called Christmas Town USA?
Because nearly every single house, business, tree, and lamp post in the tiny town is decorated with lights, wreaths, and garlands. This annual holiday transformation was eventually written into the town’s charter, and now McAdenville holds a copyright on the phrase “Christmas Town USA.”
Is it better to walk or drive through the McAdenville Christmas lights?
We recommend walking. The traffic to see the lights in McAdenville gets very busy on weekends, and even on some weeknights near Christmas. Plus it’s hard to see all the incredible details in each home and decorated display when you have dozens of cars right behind you!
How long does it take to walk through McAdenville?
We recommend allowing at least two hours to see everything there is to see along the 1.3-mile route. But if you plan to eat dinner, do some Christmas shopping, or take lots of selfies, you could easily spend 3-4 hours or more.
Where do you park to walk in McAdenville?
If you get there by 4 PM, you can find empty parking spots on the street and behind the businesses in Downtown McAdenville, even on weekends. Other available lots are behind McAdenville Baptist Church, at McAdenville Elementary School, and the Catawba Riverkeeper location on Dickson Road.
What else is there to do in McAdenville NC at Christmas time?
Christmas Town USA kicks off every year with a Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 1. Other seasonal activities include a Christmas Town 5K Fun Run in late November, and the annual Yule Log Parade in mid-December (a McAdenville tradition that dates back to 1949). –by Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett.
For info on licensing our Christmas Town USA photos, email [email protected].