On This date in 1862 the first Watch Night Services was celebrated in Back communities in America.
The Watch Night Services in Black communities can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, Black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. Lincoln had used the occasion of the Union victory at Antietam to issue a preliminary proclamation, which freed all slaves in the rebellious states after January 1, 1863.
Then, at the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863, and all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as people fell to their knees and thanked God.
Black folks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.
It’s been 157 years since that first Freedom’s Eve and many of us were never taught the African-American history of Watch Night, but tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over”.
This celebration takes many American descendants of slaves into a new year with praise and worship. The service usually begins anywhere from 7 p.m. To 10 p.m. And ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year. Some people come to church first, before going out to celebrate, for others, church is the only New Year’s Eve event.
There have been instances where clergy in mainline denominations questioned the propriety of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve. However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year’s Eve services in the Black experience in America.