Be a part of the tradition
Attend Watch Night Service at Canaan
Friday, December 31
Church doors open at 9:00 pm
Why We Celebrate Watch Night
Many of us who live or grew up in black communities in the United States have probably heard of "Watch Night Service," the gathering of the faithful in church on New Year's Eve. The service begins any time from 7:00 to 10:00 pm, and ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year. Some folks come to church first, before going out to celebrate. For others, church is the only New Year’s Eve event.
It has been routinely assumed that Watch Night Service is a fairly standard Christian religious observance. Still, it seems that predominantly white Christian churches do not include Watch Night Services on their calendars, but focus instead on Christmas Eve programs. In fact, there have been instances of mainline-denomination clergy publicly questioning the propriety of linking a religious service with a secular holiday like NewYear's Eve.
However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year's Eve services in African-American congregations. The Watch Night Services that are celebrated in black communities 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, waiting for news that the Emancipation Proclamation had actually 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 people fell to their knees and thanked God. Ever since that first Watch Night, 146 years ago, black folks have gathered in churches annually on New Years’ Eve, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.
Contributed by Trustee Martin Harris