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.


xmas_01 xmas_02 xmas_03 xmas_04 xmas_05 xmas_06 xmas_07 xmas_08 xmas_09 xmas_10 xmas_11 xmas_12 xmas_13 xmas_14 xmas_15 xmas_16 xmas_17 xmas_18 xmas_19 xmas_20 xmas_21 xmas_22 xmas_23 xmas_24 xmas_25 xmas_26 xmas_27 xmas_28 xmas_29 xmas_30 xmas_31 xmas_32 xmas_33 xmas_34 xmas_35 xmas_36 xmas_37 xmas_38 xmas_39 xmas_40 xmas_41 xmas_42 xmas_43 xmas_44 xmas_45 xmas_46 xmas_47 xmas_48 xmas_49 xmas_50 xmas_51 xmas_52 xmas_53 xmas_54 xmas_55 xmas_56 xmas_57 xmas_58 xmas_59 xmas_60 xmas_61 xmas_62 xmas_63 xmas_64 xmas_65 xmas_66