Skip to content

Free and fun for the whole family: Visiting Christmas Town USA in North Carolina

Dec. 14, 2022
4 min read
a home is elaborately decorated for Christmas
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The twinkling lights adorning houses across the U.S. every December add an extra dash of holiday magic to the evenings. But perhaps nowhere embraces the holiday spirit more than McAdenville, North Carolina.

Dubbed "Christmas Town USA," lights sparkle on hundreds of trees and buildings as well as public spaces around town. And best of all, it's free to visit and enjoy all that holiday cheer; there are no visitor or parking fees.

TPG recently visited McAdenville for the tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1, but there's plenty of time left before the displays come down for folks to visit this truly singular city.

The humble beginnings of Christmas Town USA

Back in 1956, McAdenville was a mill town for Pharr Yarns. The local mens club asked the company director if they could decorate the nine trees surrounding the community center to bring some holiday cheer, and a tradition was born.

However, it wasn't until 1980 that Christmas Town USA entered the national spotlight. With a population of just 1,000 people, McAdenville's celebrity for holiday lights only ballooned after a visit from "CBS Sunday Morning's" Charles Kuralt that year. After his report, tourism to McAdenville's lights displays and annual tree lighting ceremony took off.

Visiting Christmas Town USA

McAdenville is located 10 miles southwest of Charlotte. The annual lighting ceremony kicks off the displays each year on Dec. 1. The lights are on every night from 5:30 to 10, running until Dec. 26. Despite its small size, a spokesperson for the McAdenville council said the town expects tens of thousands of visitors to walk and drive through the hamlet to see the lights this month.

While the tree lighting ceremony has come and gone, visitors can still participate in the Yule Log Parade on Dec. 15 at 5:30 p.m. This tradition dates to 1949 and culminates with adding the log to the fire at Legacy Park after being pulled through town on a traditional sled.

Related: From Branson, Missouri, to Newport Beach, California, here's our guide to 13 of the best holiday light shows in the US

In addition to lights — roughly 500,000 of them on 250 trees throughout McAdenville — local homes are decorated, some of them very elaborately. Transforming McAdenville into Christmas Town requires a crew of volunteers who begin their work on Labor Day weekend and finish on Thanksgiving in time for the Christmas Town 5K run. Removing all the decorations is another monumental effort, lasting until March of the following year.

Sign up for our daily newsletter
Visitors at the tree lighting ceremony wait as the sun goes down. RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

The tree lighting featured entertainment from the local high school jazz band and the elementary school choir. Visitors were also treated to free popcorn and hot cocoa to keep us warm as we waited for the sun to go down and the lights to come on.

Each year, a randomly selected fourth grader from the local elementary school gets to flip the switch, instantly transforming McAdenville into Christmas Town.

Throughout the holiday season, Santa and Mrs. Claus make surprise appearances around town. At the conclusion of the tree lighting ceremony, Santa arrived on a horse-drawn carriage, and children could take photos with him while sitting on his lap and sharing their Christmas wishes and gift lists.

If you decide to visit, skip Uber and drive your own car (or a rental) to McAdenville. The main tree lighting happens at the town center, but you get the full experience by driving around and seeing all of the decorated homes. Parking is also readily available around the town.

Bottom line

Whether you walk through the town or drive in the crawling traffic on the two-lane road running through the center of McAdenville, visiting Christmas Town feels magical. It might not be worth traveling from long distances or flying in, but if you happen to be in the region, a stop in Christmas Town USA should definitely be on your holiday to-do list. Especially if you can catch the tree lighting or the Yule Log Parade.

Featured image by RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best for earning alternative rewards for travel purchases
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review
Apply for Credit One Bank Wander® Card
at Credit One Bank's secure site

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10XEarn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner site
5XEarn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
1XEarn 1x points on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 10,000 Bonus Points
Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

Fair/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The revamped Wander Card from Credit One Bank earns cardmembers up to 10 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases. With no foreign transaction fees, the card is also great for international travel. However, points earned from this card can only be used at a fixed value, so it may not be the best option for those striving to get maximum value from their rewards.

Pros

  • This card has no foreign transaction fees and earns up to 10 points per dollar on travel purchases through the Credit One Bank travel partner site.

Cons

  • While cardholders can earn a significant amount of points on travel purchases, there isn't any way to redeem points from the Wander Card for maximum value (beyond 1 cent per point).
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel
  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
  • Earn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Free Online Credit Score and Credit Report summary, terms apply
  • If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Credit One Bank Wander® Card
at Credit One Bank's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for earning alternative rewards for travel purchases
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner site
5XEarn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
1XEarn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel

    Earn 10,000 Bonus Points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    Fair/Good

Why We Chose It

The revamped Wander Card from Credit One Bank earns cardmembers up to 10 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases. With no foreign transaction fees, the card is also great for international travel. However, points earned from this card can only be used at a fixed value, so it may not be the best option for those striving to get maximum value from their rewards.

Pros

  • This card has no foreign transaction fees and earns up to 10 points per dollar on travel purchases through the Credit One Bank travel partner site.

Cons

  • While cardholders can earn a significant amount of points on travel purchases, there isn't any way to redeem points from the Wander Card for maximum value (beyond 1 cent per point).
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel
  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
  • Earn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Free Online Credit Score and Credit Report summary, terms apply
  • If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
  • See Rates & Fees