Being upcountry in the 60's during holiday season was unique for us. Having grown up in a community where friends had Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and where even then we were all pounded by the commercial aspects of the holiday season - being in Kenema was worlds away in more ways then one. Sure, our Peace Corps assignment was with the missionary Holy Rosary Sisters and the Catholic Mission. In those days the sisters were mainly from Ireland and their overt Christmas festivities were muted in comparison to our American experience. Their Christmas was appropriately holy and religious. The few outward manifestations - their decorations were tasteful and appropriate. What I best remember was the lack of frenzy that my American Christian friends went through each holiday season. In Kenema - Christians were certainly in the minority in those days. But the impact of the holiday season did not pass the Muslims and the animists by. Just as in America Christmas (and New Years) were work holidays as well as religious holidays. The Christians went to their churches. After church services a very intermittent and somewhat haphazard celebration would take place as we walked about either to visit our friends or to just get out. Stores were closed. There was no mail. We might head to visit Peace Corps friends in Town and along the way we'd be met by various 'devils' out and about to celebrate the festivities. Routinely - these devils and their group of attendants, many with musical instruments and singing - would stop as we walked near them - sing some songs or aid the devil in its dance - and these short interludes in our walk would result in our 'dashing' the folks for their entertainment. This might happen 3 or 4 times in our 2 mile walk. The holiday season was at the height of the dry season. The air at this time was less humid, sometimes discolored by the Saharan wind known as the Harmattan - a wind from the north that was mixed at high levels with sand off the Sahara.
Except for wearing their Sunday best for those who went to Church there was no holiday decorations and little outward signs of the holiday. There was certainly no snow and no cold. So for us and for all our Peace Corps buddies - the holiday celebration was muted and quiet. Mostly a day to perhaps go to church and to contemplate - all groups appreciated the chance to participate in their own way - even if they were not Christians. I also remember New Years being a very similar muted experience. Another non-work day (the schools were out for the two week holidays) - I remember little in the way of outward celebrations. Yes perhaps a few 'devils' and their attendants might be out for the day, and there might be some singing - but for the most part the holiday season in Kenema was quiet.