Updated: Feb 18
The little town on the South Fork River is preparing for its annual transformation.
Every December, McAdenville becomes Christmastown, USA, as countless red, green and white lights are turned on to twinkle and shine, and all the town’s homes get into the spirit of Christmas. Thanks to a special deal with Duke Energy, the town is able to create this dazzling display of lights and decorations that has for decades drawn visitors from around the world. French, German, Austrian and other foreign media news outlets have covered Christmastown, according to McAdenville historian and photographer Steve Rankin.
The big show of Christmas lights will run Dec. 1-26, Monday-Friday, 5:30- 9:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, 5:30-11 p.m.
Hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights are involved in this colossal display. It requires so much preparation in fact that Town of McAdenville workers have to get cracking with the lights as early as September, as Rankin recently noted.
Visitors stroll down Main Street or drive through town surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christmas. There are hundreds of brightly illuminated Christmas trees that line the Christmastown route. Carillon bells ring out with Christmas music at the William J. Pharr Family YMCA, situated atop the hill on Main Street. McAdenville Lake is surrounded by more than 30 decorated trees, and a 75-foot multi-colored fountain serves as the centerpiece of the lake’s lights’ beautifully reflected display. This is a favorite spot for visitors.
Vintage displays include Old Man Winter, Santa Claus and his reindeer, Christmas carolers and a beautiful, lifesized manger scene of the Holy Family, which is of course central to the holy tide of Christmas and what Christmas is all about: the birth of Christ. All of these and more displays are located within McAdenville’s historic district.
The Christmastown tradition
It has been said that the quiet, little town of McAdenville is much like Mayberry, the idyllic, fictional Tarheel town of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Like Mayberry, McAdenville is more or less crime-free. It does indeed have the statistically quantifiably lowest crime rate in all of Gaston County, and McAdenville folks are proud to live there.
Its merry metamorphosis into Christmastown seemingly happens over night. But really, a lot of hard, behind the- scenes work makes it all possible.
Adjacent to McAdenville Lake is the historic bell tower that has served as a central focal point for the town since the establishment of McAden Mills, back in the good, old days of 1881. In 2010, this historic bell tower was fully restored to its former prominence. In addition to this restoration, a new chime system was installed to renew the original tradition of the bell tower pealing time for the residents and the workers in the village.
The chimes welcome visitors with carols, special hymns and songs to mark each holiday season. They also play on national holidays and during special remembrances, including a yearly tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
While much emphasis has been placed on the lighting of trees, this represents only a portion of the effort that goes into the preparation for Christmas. The townsfolk play a big part as they decorate their homes in original styles according to their own personal tastes. This gives a special expression of “best wishes for a merry Christmas” from the townsfolk to their visitors.
A short history of Christmastown
In 1956, the McAdenville Men’s Club decided to decorate a few trees around the McAdenville Community Center. With the permission of town officials and W. J. Pharr, then the president of Pharr Yarns, nine trees were decorated. It was Mrs. W.J. Pharr who suggested the use of specific Christmas colors (red, green and white) and later also suggested the addition of the manger scene.
The energy crisis of 1973-74 marked the only years when the lights did not dazzle and delight the eyes and hearts of local citizens and millions of visitors.
In 1980, the late North Carolinaborn Charles Kuralt really placed Christmastown on the map by featuring it on his “CBS News Sunday Morning” television show. Then in 1997, Christmastown shared Christmas greetings with the whole country by way of ABC’s “Good Morning, America.”
In 2003, the German television network, ARD, shared the story of Christmastown with its five million viewers. This was followed three years later by coverage in the Austrian newspaper, Österreich (German for Austria; literally, “Eastern Realm”). A French television news crew arrived the following year.
In 2014, there was the dedication of the J.M. “Bip” Carstarphen Memorial Tree. Carstarphen, who passed away on May 20, 2014, served as Pharr Yarns’ chief executive officer. He was the beloved husband of Catherine Anne Carstarphen. This stately Christmas tree is to the left of the Pharr Family YMCA, and it serves as a reminder of Mr. Carstarphen’s many contributions to Pharr Yarns and the town of McAdenville.
The next year, with the support of the Carstarphen family, along with the continued involvement of company management, townsfolk and local leaders, McAdenville celebrated the 60th year of its Christmas lights.
This year’s annual tree-lighting ceremony at the Pharr Family YMCA is Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m.
Then Dec. 16 (Beethoven’s birthday, as Schroeder would note) at 5:30 p.m., the 68th annual McAdenville Yule Log Parade will be held, starting at 100 Main St. The singing of Christmas carols, performed by local schoolchildren and church choirs, will be a big part of this event. Look for the free hot chocolate and kettle corn.