The Historic Significance of Watch Night Services in the Black Church
In December 31, 1862 the first Watch Night Services were celebrated in Back communities in America.
The Watch Night service can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, enslaved Blacks and free Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. At the stroke of midnight, January 1, 1863 all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.
Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year. It’s been over a century since the first Freedom’s Eve and tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.” This celebration takes many African 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. (Source: the African American Registry)
Incorporating“Our Story” atsome point in WatchNight services as it relates to theenslavement of Black people in America is important.
Bad things happen when we forget to acknowledge those who paved the way. History has many lessons. By remembering, we learn from mistakes made. We learn that faith carries us when nothing else is left to show the way. We learn that prayer changes things, even when you’re confronted by an army and the mean ways of people determined to keep you in chains.
The clock is ticking. The year is coming to an end. We wait for new beginnings – just like those enslaved ancestors, who anticipated word of a law that would set them free. Waiting is about hope in a better day.
We can’t forget that hope.