Yes, they certainly do. Christmas here is a festival which 'belongs' to the Christians, who are numerous, although a minority. It's a 'jour ferié', that is a national holiday. And non-Christians celebrate it too, mostly as an occasion for children, and an excuse for lovely new clothes. Non-Christians call on their Christian neighbours to wish them 'bonne fête' and hope to be offered food and drink.
In the one real supermarket in Bobo, frequented by 'toubabous' (whites) and affluent locals, there have been toys and even some christmas trees. Decorations are on sale at street stalls - including shiny garlands which we might string across the ceiling but which here can be used to wrap round and round a woman's head, over an artificial hairpiece, to prepare to go out dancing!
Does the place come to a standstill? No. Some examples of that - Christmas as you may have noticed falls on a Saturday this year. Saturday is a working day for many, so no need for an extra day off. On Christmas Eve those who work in the public service or organised structures like ours worked a 'journée continue', which means straight through without a lunch break to 2pm, and then finish - no afternoon session. I left at about 2.15 but I suspect several colleagues were there much later. Not being sure what would be open the next day I popped out to buy some fresh veg - this turned out to be an unnecessary precaution as the local market was much as ever on Christmas Day - just a few of the usual stalls were not there.
December is the end of the financial and administrative year here (many people find our April-March year, used here by some international funding bodies) hard to understand. So lots of people are busy with reports and with finishing projects. Or even starting them - on about 20th December our organisation was asked to start a new project - a small one - to be finished by year end. No problem, the required 4 activities were all programmed in and will mostly be done next week. On 23rd December we had a monitoring visit from a funder reviewing the work of another project - the meeting went on until about 6.30 or 7 pm, and the report which is needed to complete the project will be produced and submitted by the middle of next week - I think the deadline is 28th. So people may well be working on it this weekend - no report, no funding transfer, nobody gets paid at the end of the month - and will certainly be hard at work next week.
And lots of people, Christians included, work on Christmas Day, and not just in essential services. Many are not able to spend the day with family, or even eat together - they may be working, or too far away, or not have the money for festive food. One Christian Burkinabe friend who brought her two kids to visit on Christmas Day said it was the first time for 5 years that they had been able to celebrate Christmas by spending the day together.
And the Toubabous? On Christmas Eve we partied with the other volunteers here in Bobo and some local friends (thank you very much, Eve, Simon and family). We? Les has come out to visit me (my best Christmas present) and to see Burkina. He has been welcomed by the neighbourhood, particularly the children who clamour at the door for Papa Noel. Yesterday we wandered around the local market and neighbourhood, greeted friends, ate off and on all day but on a much more modest scale than we usually would at Christmas, and enjoyed the sunshine which was pleasant if a bit hot around midday. We handed out photos I had taken last festival, which Les had printed and brought from UK (the wonders of digital photography and internet communication). These were received with great pleasure and excitement, huge smiles and lots of giggles - and took some more pics of people in their new best clothes. A great way to spend Christmas Day.
In a day or two we are off to Ghana for a little holiday - it will be interesting to experience an anglophone country in contrast. So 'Boxing Day' will see us packing our bags, and perhaps going for a swim.
So I shan't be writing about New Year in Bobo - I may in due course write about New Year in Ghana, but won't be writing much at all for a couple of weeks. Festive greetings and Happy New Year to all my readers, and sympathy (well a bit) for those who are suffering as a result of the weather. Thank you to everyone who has sentfestive emails, I really do like hearing from you and will try to be better about responding individually.
See you next year!