‘Christmas in America’ Celebrates Weird and Wonderful Holiday Traditions

Photographer Jesse Rieser created this "unvarnished examination of the ways people mark the holiday’s meaning."

“Cowboy Kringle,” church parking lot Santa, and holiday Elvis are just a few of the quirky “characters” who make appearances in the award-winning photo series Christmas In America: Happy Birthday, Jesus by LA-based artist Jesse Rieser. “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,” writes Rieser on his Behance page. “Christmas in America is an unvarnished examination of the ways people mark the holiday’s meaning.” Rieser also notes that he comes from a secular background and “never connected to the holiday’s religious importance, or its more extreme cultural trappings.”

The series highlights the holiday’s kitschy, religious, and playful side. Rieser traveled through Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, and California for seven years to examine the meaning of Christmas in America — and 2017 marks the end of Rieser’s photographic musings on all things merry. Take a closer look in our gallery.

@jesserieser back for my sixth day of sharing “Christmas In America: Happy Birthday, Jesus” for Sunday Afternoon’s 12 days of Christmas. 1. Christmas Morning. Glendale, AZ. 2011 Sometimes the stars align and the most unlikely of elements collide into one bizarrely surreal frame. Meaning, when I woke up, I didn’t set out to make an image with Santa Claus, The 3 Wiseman, Elmo, Curious George, and Darth Vader. By day’s end, that is indeed what happened. I also didn’t intend for the boy to be the subject. I had been photographing the homeowner who was a tall man and he was dressed in all black. His height and dress was dominating the scene and not complimenting the turquoise astro-turf. We briefly paused for a visit by the family who regularly delivers firewood, and from afar I noticed their son’s red hat and pajamas. I assured him he didn’t have to stop playing with his new Darth Vader toy and was able to capture a few frames before his parents needed to make their next delivery. ・・・ 2. Electric Blue. Henderson, NV. 2011
At the time, it hadn’t dawned on me that warmer and dryer winter climates afford homeowners the luxury of ease when arranging electrical decorations outside their home. I didn’t fully understand this until the following year when making my way up to Portland and Seattle. In a climate where December days average in the 60s, this image sums up the beautiful falsehood of Christmas in the desert: palm trees, cacti, the electric flowing river, and the bundled up Charles Dickens carolers. #jesserieser #christmasinamerica #christmasinamericahappybirthdayjesus

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