Seriously, it’s actually a place.
A wholly unremarkable place 11 months out of the year, McAdenville, N.C., turns into a beacon of all the tackiness and excess of the holiday season each December. With a population of just 600, the tiny town located west of Charlotte decorates every house, tree and shrub with millions upon millions of Christmas lights. Cars queue up for miles on Interstate 85 waiting to crawl through the sleepy streets to gawk at the never-ending lights.
To the best of my knowledge we don’t have anything to match it. We have to go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Midtown for Garden Lights Holiday Nights, or drive an hour south to Callaway Gardens for Fantasy in Lights. Lake Lanier has the Magical Nights of Lights. What those displays lack is the individuality, the one-upmanship that leads to the one display being more ridiculous and therefore more hysterical than the one that precedes it.
There are some homes that surprise us. There is one on Mount Paran Road in Buckhead that covers its lawn with an impossible amount of Christmas-themed inflatables. There is the yard on Northside Parkway at the intersection of Blackland Road in Buckhead with a 50-foot tree covered with an inconceivable number of Christmas lights. Then there was the so-called Kenny Rogers Christmas tree. When the Gambler lived on the corner of Valley and Habersham roads, somehow the trees in the traffic island directly in front of his house were covered in lights each December, making one of the most beautiful streets in Atlanta awesomely over the top.
An all-time favorite of mine was a home on Powers Ferry Road a few doors to the south of Horseradish Grill. Each year it became a walkable winter wonderland with a huge tree covered in lights. Neighbors and onlookers were invited to walk around and admire the displays. I believe a fire ended that tradition many years ago, but it made the drive up Powers Ferry spectacular and spread a great deal of holiday cheer.
There was once a destination neighborhood that went all out for Christmas. Sherwood Forest was at the time one of Atlanta’s newer neighborhoods. It was established in 1949, just to the north of Ansley Park. I have been told that in those early days many of the homes in the neighborhood were decorated with lights and displays. This would have been the 1950s. As soon as it grew dark outside, families piled into their cars and drove through, children’s faces pressed up against the glass to see the twinkling lights.
I for one love over-the-top Christmas displays — the gaudier the better. Being that we are a sophisticated cosmopolitan city, the displays have become subtler, more tasteful with fewer lights and more garland and wreaths. Those ostentatious displays are out there, though. You just have to know where to look.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.