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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Destination: McAdenville, NC - Christmas Town USA

"Oh, the traffic outside is frightful; but the lights are so delightful"

They call it “Christmas Town, USA.” At least the local boosters do. The rest of the world calls it McAdenville. And, by the way, despite what the voice of Google Search says, it's “Mc-AD-enville,” not “Mc-ADE-enville.”

Located a mere stone's throw west of the sprawling metropolis of Charlotte, McAdenville, North Carolina is barely a wide spot in the highway. With a population of just over 600, McAdenville has something of an identity crisis; both nearby Charlotte and adjacent Gastonia claim the hamlet as a suburb. But for a few weeks every year, everybody agrees that it's really an extension of the North Pole.

The sign at the town's entrance off I-85 at exit 23 proclaims that “Christmas Town” was founded in 1881. Well, sort of. Named for Rufus Yancey McAden, president of the local textile mill, McAdenville was incorporated in that year. “Christmas Town” came along a good bit later, influenced, coincidentally, by a successor of Rufus McAden, one W.J. Pharr, president of Pharr Yarns.

Back in 1956, the local Men's Club came up with the idea of making things merry and bright by hanging lights on a few trees around town. The town fathers said, “Sure. Why not?” Pharr and his wife also got behind the project and nine trees were decorated in red, white, and green lights.

Fast forward a half-century or so. Things have expanded a little. Today, more than 375 trees, ranging in height from six feet to more than ninety feet, boast strings of bright holiday lights numbering anywhere from 500 to 5,000 lights per tree. Preparations begin in August. And even though W.J. Pharr is no longer around, his successors at Pharr Yarns continue to support the project he helped develop, picking up the electric bill for the town's light display.

But it's so much more than just a municipal holiday display. The community at large has gotten involved and the result is truly magical.

“Christmas Town USA” is pretty much the two-mile stretch of NC 7 that runs through McAdenville between I-85 and US 29-74. The route passes through beautiful neighborhoods and the town's quaint “downtown” center. Nearly every home is decorated in some fashion. A few sport only very simple wreaths illuminated by spotlights. Most, however, are adorned in a truly grand manner. Lots of twinkling lights, lots of inflatables. More than two hundred wreaths hang from the town's lampposts. Life-size representations of Santa and his reindeer, carolers, and other iconic images are everywhere. And there are a lot of larger-than-life displays, too. For example, the massive Old Man Winter located on the shores of a small lake near the town center, “blowing” lighted “snowflakes” into the air. The lake itself is ringed with decorated trees while a fountain in the middle jets water seventy-five feet into the air as colored lights play through the spray. The sounds of chimes and music emanate from several sources along the way.

Besides the ongoing light display, there are a couple of special events that highlight the season; the lighting ceremony that occurs at the beginning of the season and the yule log ceremony that happens about midway through.

A word or two of caution: we made the dreadful mistake of going to see the lights on a Saturday evening. If you follow our foolish example, don't be surprised that it will take you somewhere between two and three hours to take in the sights. Seeing the breathtaking displays along the designated route will take thirty minutes to an hour. The rest of your time will be spent sitting in miles-long traffic beside I-85. Cars begin pulling off onto the shoulder of the Interstate about a mile-and-a-half before the actual exit ramp. A second line stretches back about a half to three-quarters-of-a-mile along what would usually be the inside exit lane. About halfway up the exit ramp, the two lines attempt to converge into a single lane. You'll see lots of blue lights before you get to the red, white, and green as state and local police do their best to regulate the flow of traffic. But I might humbly suggest that they station one officer at the choke point on the Interstate before somebody gets killed there. We witnessed several near misses caused by clueless idiots who, having bypassed all the standing traffic, tried to force their way into the head of the line. Lots of shouting, lots of cursing, lots of horn blowing, not a lot of peace on Earth and goodwill to men.

The traffic backup was so immense that we observed many people getting out of their cars and hiking up the ramp to the gas station, returning with bags of provisions. There were numerous other people – men, mostly – who took little trips into the woods beside the highway. The movie “Rio” was showing on the rear-facing screen of the vehicle in front of us; we watched most of the movie as we crawled along. If you are not prepared for this scenario, your mood may be ruined before you get to the destination, and that would be a shame. There were four of us in the car and ultimately we all agreed that the experience was worth the inconvenience. But we all also agreed that we would never do it again on a Saturday night.

All in all, though, it was a memorable adventure, one highlighted not only by bright lights but by bright spirits. Even as we moved slowly through all the festive luminosity, we were greeted by shouts of “Merry Christmas” from passing cars and pedestrians. The joy and excitement of both children and adults was palpable. On that December evening, we could truly sing, “In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.”

Detailed information on “Christmas Town USA” can be found at http://www.mcadenville-christmastown.com.

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