By Caroline McKenzie
November 07, 2017
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Each year, the 665 devoted residents of McAdenville create a gleaming display that has earned this place the nickname "Christmas Town USA." Located west of Charlotte, the village blankets homes, every last municipal building, and 375 trees in red, green, and white Christmas lights. It's a tradition that began on a whim in 1956, when five young men, all employees at the local textile mill owned by William J. Pharr, crafted the words "Merry Christmas" from discarded pipe lying around the mill yard. They wrapped the oversize greeting in lights and displayed it on a hill above the town lake. "Mr. Pharr liked it so much, he offered to pay us for every decoration we put up," recalls Dick Roberts, one of the original five. In a few years, the entire town was involved. Today, around 600,000 visitors come to McAdenville to see the annual display December 1 through 26, starting at 5:30 each evening. Though the driving tour can take 30 to 45 minutes to complete on weekends, no one seems to mind the leisurely pace. Pharr's company still covers much of the expense, even the jump in homeowners' power bills for the month of December. "It takes a lot of work for a community to pull off a feat like this," says Roberts, "and it takes a very special community to keep the display this way year after year."

Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Eat & Drink

Before you head to McAdenville, enjoy dinner in neighboring Belmont, where the charming downtown has a number of locally owned eateries. For regional fare and hip decor, try Nellie's Southern Kitchen. Its down-home favorites include chicken and dumplings as well as mashed sweet potatoes topped with tasty caramelized pecans. You can also get into the holiday spirit with their selection of craft brews and cocktails, like the Main Street Mule, served in a copper mug and garnished with candied ginger.

Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Just down the street, The String Bean serves rich appetizers (like the Bison Quesadilla, Duck Fat Fries, and Shrimp & Grits) and decadent pizzas. Don't have time to dine in? Grab one of the restaurant's gourmet sandwiches to go, and enjoy it on the ride over to McAdenville.

WATCH: The Historic Roosevelt Hotel Turns Into a Christmas Wonderland

Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Stay the Night

Check in at The Duke Mansion, located in Charlotte, about a 30-minute drive from downtown McAdenville. The historic bed-and-breakfast was built in 1915 and previously owned by James Buchanan Duke, who created The Duke Endowment to help the communities and people of the Carolinas. The mansion crafts its own special holiday magic with greenery and festive decor. At this boutique property, you'll find 20 well-appointed guest rooms with plush finishes plus a sweet treat waiting for you. It's the ideal end to an enchanting winter evening.