Each and every holiday season in Charlotte, families pile into their mini vans and SUVs and head to McAdenville to see the famous lights of “Christmas Town, USA”.
Their travel mugs are filled with hot cocoa, hearts filled with holiday cheer. They are wearing matching PJs (how fun to be in pajamas in the car!). They are harmonizing Christmas carols and laughing merrily all the way. Their cheeks are rosy and eyes full of magic and wonder.
Picture the happiest holiday Norman Rockwell painting you’ve ever seen and that’s what the first 5 minutes on a car trip to McAdenville are like.
Fast forward to minute 30, sitting in standstill traffic on the McAdenville exit ramp off of 1-85 and I’ll paint you a different picture.
Little Jimmy is in the backseat letting out a piercing scream because Mom forgot to pack the iPad and he wants to play Minecraft.
Dad is yelling at Jimmy to suck it up and shut up or else he’s going to stop the car and leave him on the side of the road.
Your sister, Emily, is crying because Dad wouldn’t stop at Chick-fil-A and now her sobbing is so intense no one can even understand her. There’s a 50/50 chance she’ll cry so hard she’ll throw up.
Halfway into the ride, your brother Kevin spilled his hot chocolate all over your seat. Now, your red reindeer pajamas, which you’ve realized are actually hideously stupid, are moist and sticky.
Mom is singing along loudly to Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and you are gazing out the window at the red taillights in front of you wondering if this is how you will die.
Go see the lights, they said.
It’ll be fun, they said.
At this point, I think it’s worth saying that I’m not trying to hate on Christmas Town, USA. I LOVE Christmas lights and they really do have one of the best displays around. I actually have fond memories of trips to see the lights when I was younger.
That was back in the early 90s, before going to McAdenville meant sitting bumper to bumper. Now, if you want to make the journey to the lights, it’s a whole different ballgame.
But I’m not here to convince you not to go. I’m here to help you survive the ride.
If you’re heading up to McAdenville this year, here’s everything you need to know to make it through without requiring family therapy afterwards.
Do not, I repeat, do NOT go on the weekend.
The only people who go to McAdenville on the weekends in December are masochists and the certifiably insane. I know weeknights are tough but, trust me, it is worth it. Jimmy can miss his homework for one night to save you from holiday PTSD.
On weeknights, the lights shine from 5:30pm-9:30pm. You’re going to want to avoid rush hour, so I’d suggest heading that way around 6:30-7ish. There will still be traffic but it won’t be as bad as Friday or Saturday.
For the love of god, eat something beforehand.
There’s nothing more idiotic than trying to go to McAdenville on an empty stomach. You’re practically begging for at least one family member to go total scorched earth from hanger.
I’d recommend stopping for food on the way. You can just do fast food or pop into Belmont or another nearby town for a bite to eat. At the very least, pack some snacks. You will be thankful you did.
Pro tip: Don’t do anything heavy. One year we went to Mama Ricotta’s beforehand. Big mistake. Huge.
Bring entertainment or prepare to perish.
I don’t care if you have a “no screen rule” at home. What are you trying to prove? BRING OUT THE SCREENS. You’re gunna want your little cherubs locked into the matrix until you reach Christmas Town, USA. Trust me.
If you fail to do this, mark my words, you will have a meltdown on your hands so disastrous that years from now you will refer to it as the McAdenville Tantrum of 2018.
Set conversation topic boundaries.
Think of this as similar to a first date. Don’t talk about politics. No religion. No mention of that guy your sister brought home last Christmas who mysteriously didn’t return this Christmas. Keep it high level. Keep it casual. Everybody BE COOL.
Leave anyone the ages of 13-15 at home.
Some people are going to think this isn’t fair but it’s survival of the fittest out here. Middle schoolers cannot be reasoned with. Their bodies are going through too much and it’s fine, they can’t help it, but their hormones don’t need to be contained in a car going to see Christmas lights. Bring your pubescent teen and you will regret everything.
Have a handy list of banned Christmas songs
Before you even sit your butt in the car seat, there needs to be an agreed upon list of banned Christmas songs. I love holiday music but there are some songs that are so annoying they are almost guaranteed to make you mentally unstable.
My list includes “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth”, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause” (so creepy).
Try to enjoy yourself
I’ll admit this feel like a cop out for survival advice but it might be the only thing standing between you either having a miserable or good time. If there’s a traffic jam, accept it. If someone cries, stay calm and move on. Life is messy and crazy but sometimes it’s nice to take a moment to stop and enjoy something, even if it’s just christmas lights.