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Christmas in America
Happy Birthday, Jesus

Jesse Rieser by Jesse Rieser on Dec. 16, 2020


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 thousands of Santas run in an annual fundraising race, a sea of red hats and performance apparel. This is a Christmas where garages and homes are transformed into elaborate, festive wonderlands. This is a Christmas where Christian families reenact the birth of Christ, where Santa plays pool in a bar and where more is more is more.

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 have grown to love during my 8-year 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 four story 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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©2020 Jesse Reiser. All rights reserved.

More About Jesse Rieser

Jesse RieserJesse’s celebration of the mundane and often overlooked can be traced back to his Midwestern upbringing in Springfield, Missouri. Studied at ASU and now out of Phoenix, Rieser continuing his exploration of subtleties paired with his signature style of light and color. Internationally exhibited, Rieser has been interviewed and featured in The New York Times, Time, National Geographic, Architectural Digest, NPR, Wired, and Fast Company. His works have been celebrated by industry annuals Communication Arts, PDN, American Photography and Critical Mass Top 50. Named an Art Director’s Club Young Gun, a recipient of the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward award, and one of the five winning artists for Klompching Gallery’s 2020 Fresh.

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