CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESUS

Beyond the glowing green and red lights, past the shimmering silvery tinsel, around the fragrant pine boughs, another Christmas lingers, a Christmas of contradictions.

This is a Christmas where carved foam soldiers guard Santa in the parking lot of a church just before a holiday parade. This is a Christmas where donation asks are written in Spanish and English in the unsteady handwriting of an elderly man. This is a Christmas where three generations of one family put on matching pajamas and ride a train to a “North Pole” that’s next to the Grand Canyon. This is a Christmas where ten months of decorations, of work, threaten to push people out of their homes.

This Christmas is complex and at times, uncomfortable. It’s awkward and sometimes bleak. But it is also sincere and celebratory, colorful and creative.

This is the Christmas I capture in this first chapter of a photographic exploration of the biggest event on the American calendar. I grew up in a secular home and at times felt like a Christmas outsider, never connected to the holiday’s religious importance, or its more extreme cultural trappings. But in these photos, I become a Christmas insider, working to discover and reveal what holiday magic, or mania, compels so many to devote thousands of hours to hanging lights, to carving and painting figurines, to building miniature villages, to converting their homes, yards, garages and cars into monuments to merriness.

Initially inspired by the absurdity of a 40-foot inflatable Santa who appeared to be guarding a tree lot, I have launched this survey of uniquely American Christmas traditions. “Christmas in America” is an unvarnished examination of the ways people mark the holiday’s meaning.

 

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