Every December, McAdenville, North Carolina, transforms into Christmastown, USA—a pageant of lights and decorations that attract 600,000 visitors annually. But for this former mill town of 665 residents, Christmas is more than just a holiday—it’s a chance at economic revitalization.
Christmas Town began in 1956, when a group of maintenance workers at a Pharr Yarns mill twisted piping to spell “Merry Christmas” and planted it on a local hillside. Since then, the event has grown into an annual spectacle—one that brings enormous attention and tourism to an otherwise sleepy town. I journeyed to McAdenville in 2019 to better understand its fascination with Christmas, and I found something surprising: As the local textile industry began to decline, an emphasis on Christmas became increasingly prominent.
A significant part of my research for this article was in McAdenville itself, where I spoke with residents, business owners, and a representative from Pharr Yarns, the area’s largest employer and last remaining textile operation. But I also used resources from the National Register of Historic Places to research the history of textile production (and decline) in McAdenville, along with records from Melissa Lookups to find information about the area’s recent housing boom.
McAdenville was reborn thanks to Christmas. As the town’s textile industry declined, the commercialization of Christmas allowed new businesses to open and an explosion in the local real estate market. Even the physical landscape of the town has changed, with old mills being knocked down to create space for new developments (which will undoubtedly be covered in wreaths and lights).
After being picked up on HuffPost, this article was featured on the website’s homepage on December 23, 2019.