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 re-enact the birth of Christ while at the same time, somewhere Santa plays pool in a bar. In short, a Christmas 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 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 at the altar of merriness.
Initially inspired by the absurdity of a five-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.