Weekly Musings #5 Watch Night-A Cherished Tradition

It is that time of the year again. It is the end of a year and the eve of a new year. This time is filled with partying, remembering, and making Best of, Worst of, and Rewinds of the year. I, however, have a long-standing tradition around this time. On December 31st, I always attend a unique church service in the African-American community called Watch Night. Sadly, this will be the first time that I will have missed Watch Night. So I thought it would be great to share the meaning of this special tradition with you all.


Watch Night is a church service held by most denominations of the African-American church community. This occasion commemorates the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln that was to be made effective on January 1, 1863. This would effectively free the slaves in the Confederacy and allow them to join the Union if the Union forces won the war. The problem for the slaves as they were not sure that Lincoln would commit to his proclamation and would back out so, on December 31, 1862, the slaves gathered to watch and pray that God would allow Lincoln to stay the course and follow through on the proclamation. Today this event is remembered in the African-American community by meeting around 9:00 or 10:00 pm on New Year’s eve and usher in the New Year. This service fills the community with a sense of hope, renewal, and strength for the new year.


Watch Night is important not only because it commemorates the hope for God’s use of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but it is also important as a means to give thanks to God for the year that has passed and to pray for a brighter tomorrow for the future. It is the most sacred and unique traditions observed explicitly by the African-American community. Further, this occasion is used to honor and remember those who died and could not see the dawn of the new year. It is the most celebrated unifying tradition that weights to unify a community.


As with traditions, there are those who do not care, think its old-fashioned or unnecessary, or at best make sure to leave their party and be at a church by midnight, then return to the party. I was made to go as a kid. I didn’t understand the significance at the time, but there was never an option for me not to go. I did not want to go until I started playing saxophone with my church band. As I attended more and more, I came to understand the weight and importance of Watch Night, and I have supported ever since. I felt that a service honoring God for his works in the past and praying for a more free year is the best way to spend New Year’s Eve. Also, the breakfast afterward is always good.


TL: DR Watch Night commemorates the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation by watching and praying for the New Year. It is a long-standing tradition in the African American community. It is a great time to observe all that is happened this year and to look forward to the year that is to come giving God all the glory.