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Slavery's End Tradition


Many of you who live or grew up in African-American communities in the United States have probably heard of "Watch Night Services," the gathering of the faithful in church on New Year's Eve. 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 folks come to church first, before going to out to celebrate. For others, church is the only New Year's Eve event they attend. Like many others, I always assumed that Watch Night was a fairly standard Christian religious
service -- made a bit more Afrocentric because that's what happens when elements of Christianity become linked with the African-American Church.

Still, it seemed that predominately White Christian churches did not include Watch Night services on their calendars, but focused instead on Christmas Eve programs. In fact, there were instances where clergy in mainline denominations wondered aloud about 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 African-American congregations. The Watch Night Services in Black
communities that we celebrate today can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862, also known as "Freedom's Eve. On that night, Blacks
came together in churches and private homes all across the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. 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 and praise as people fell to their knees and thanked God for delivering our people from slavery.

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 nearly 140 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."

Praise God and give thanks for this remaining bond that even today connects us to our ancestors!

Peace, Grace, Favor and Faith, Alta

"God grant us thy mercy and thy blessing while we remain humbly mindful of those who have not. Let everything that draws breath stand in awe of Him."

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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