MCADENVILLE — Christmas Town USA officially lights up on Monday, but in a prelude to that annual event, the half-million or so lights came on briefly Saturday night for 700 runners and 200 walkers in McAdenville.
They started on the J.M. Carstarphen bridge across the South Fork River and dashed through streets in this eastern Gaston County town of 600.
Participants in the first Christmas Town 5K and one-mile walk got glow bracelets and necklaces before the race and Christmas ornaments when they crossed the finish line in the town’s new downtown Legacy Park.
It was a festival atmosphere with food vendors, a DJ, music and a costume contest.
Earlier in the day, a street sweeper cleared away acorns, gumballs and other obstacles that might get in the way of participants. Three large rental lights illuminated dark spots untouched by the traditional Christmas glow.
Proceeds from the event went to benefit the Pharr Family YMCA and the McAdenville Woman’s Club.
The club raises money for such projects as college scholarships for high school students. Club member Julie Richardson said the group is always looking for new fundraising ideas; she suggested the 5K race.
“I thought this was the perfect place to have one,” said Richardson, 40, who moved to McAdenville with her husband, Greg, in 2006. “We have something special no one else can offer. We have the lights – the perfect setup. It’s not just any street you’re running down.”
News of the event spread around the region mostly by word of mouth and a digital billboard at Pharr Yarns’ plant on Interstate 85.
Registration was capped at 700 for the 5K and 200 for the fun walk.
“This has been an instant hit, a great first-time event,” said the race’s director, Steve D’Avria, who is also district executive director of the Gaston County Family YMCA. “We hope it maintains the tradition of McAdenville and brings to life a new tradition for people in the community.”
The red, white and green Christmas lights were switched on at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and turned off at 7:30 p.m.
The lights will flash back to life on Monday for the 58th Christmas Town USA. At 4:30 p.m., a program begins at Legacy Park on Elm Street. Then at 5:30 p.m., McAdenville Elementary School first-grader Patrick Hannon will pull the switch at the tree-lighting ceremony. Afterward, Gastonia’s CaroMont Health is sponsoring a Christmas festival that includes music, free kettle corn and hot chocolate, and a visit from Santa Claus.
About 600,000 visitors are expected to view the lights as they glow nightly through Dec. 26.
The tradition started in 1956 with the stringing of lights on a few trees and evolved into a large-scale operation, with local manufacturer Pharr Yarns in partnership with town residents.
Yule log tradition
Most visitors come in vehicles that line up bumper to bumper along the one-mile route. But many also stroll the sidewalks.
This year, they’ll find a former service station on Wesleyan Drive across from the mill pond has been transformed into a community market that’s open all year. Along with local fruit and produce, the market also sells crafts, pastries and Christmas Town items.
Another McAdenville tradition – the Yule Log Parade and Ceremony – begins at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 in front of the Pharr Yarns office. After the ceremony, visitors follow the yule log which is pulled on a sled by children through the town to Legacy Park. Members of the Ashbrook High band will play Christmas carols during the parade.
Traditionally, the log is burned in an open fireplace. This year, Pharr Yarns built a new, 15-foot-high fireplace made out of brick from an 1881 McAdenville textile plant. After the log-burning, there’s another Christmas festival with more music and free kettle corn and hot chocolate.
“We want to make this a gift to the children and families all across the region,” said Christmas Town spokesman Mel Collins.
As McAdenville readies for another Christmas season, local leaders are looking at ways to strengthen the town year-round.
In 2012, voters approved the sale of beer, wine and mixed drinks, but as of yet that’s had no impact, said Jesse Bachman, who is going into a second term on the McAdenville Town Council.
There’s still a lot of talk about a new restaurant, coffee shop, retail and “active recruitment,” he said.
A local dentist is moving his downtown office on Main Street and building a large new complex beside the elementary school, a move Bachman said will free downtown space for a restaurant or retail stores.
Meanwhile, the Town Council is trying to find grants and unique ways of funding sidewalk improvements. As foot traffic increases during the Christmas Town event, the condition of sidewalks becomes an even more important issue.
“I love McAdenville a lot,” said Bachman, an accountant who works in Charlotte. “It has a lot to offer the Charlotte-metro region with it’s small-town, storybook atmosphere. It’s a great place to visit all year, and we’re trying to make it better. We don’t want to be known just as a one-hit December wonder.”