Jesse Rieser has a special holiday tradition: photographing everyone else's traditions. The West Coast-based photographer is the artist behind the photo series "Christmas In America: Happy Birthday Jesus," which documents the best of America's love affair with Christmas decor.
Rieser has traveled around the United States documenting the lengths people go to in decorating for the holidays. He's been to the South, Southwest, and up and down the West Coast. As the geographical parameters expand, so does the project.
Like so many good things, the project's inspiration came from Santa Claus. It started in 2009 when Rieser's parents relocated to Phoenix. “I was coming to see them for the first time in Phoenix, and I started to kind of pick up on some things that seemed kind of unique,” he said. “I was driving in from Los Angeles, and in the rearview there was this kind of illuminated, five-story Santa over a Christmas-tree lot, just kind of swaying in the wind. Almost waving to me. I was just like, ‘Oh, that’s strange.’”
The extravagant decorations are overwrought, gaudy, and utterly fascinating. The region that goes most all-out? The Southwest, Rieser said. "The areas with warmer weather [allow] people to have a little more freedom than, say, a place like Seattle or Portland where they’re dealing with a lot of rain and the climate isn’t quite as dry, because they can utilize a lot of affordable lights and electronics," he said. "You always think about Christmas in cold, traditional climates, and so far I’ve found that the warmer, drier climates can be a little more visually stimulating."