.

Google+ Followers

Followers

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Watch Night Services And The Black Church.

Many people go to church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But, for me while growing up it was Watch Night Services. If you live or grew up in a Black community in the United States, you have 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 out to celebrate. For others, church is the only New Year's Eve event. We would sing the old year out and sing the new year in. When you are young that's a long time to be up clapping, running and singing.



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 Black Church. And yes! There is a history of Watch Night in the Methodist tradition also. Anyhow, it seemed that most White Christian churches did not participate in Watch Night services but focused instead on Christmas Eve programs. In fact, there were instances where some in Mainline denominations wondered aloud about the idea of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year's Eve.


However, in doing some research, I discovered there are two essential reasons for the importance of New Year's Eve services in African American congregations. Many of 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, Americans of African descent came together in churches, gathering places and private homes throughout the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law. Then, at the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863, and according to Lincoln's promise, all slaves in the Confederate States were legally free. People remained in churches and other gathering places, eagerly awaiting word that Emancipation had been declared. When the actual news of freedom was received later that day, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as people fell to their knees and thanked God.

But even before 1962 and the possibility of a Presidential Emancipation, African people had gathered on New Year's Eve on plantations across the South. That is because many owners of enslaved Africans tallied up their business accounts on the first day of each new year. Human property was sold along with land and furnishings to satisfy debts. Families and friends were separated. Often they never saw each other again in this earthly world. Thus coming together on December 31 might be the last time for enslaved and free Africans to be together with loved ones.

So, Black folks in North America have gathered annually on New Year's Eve since the earliest days, praising God for bringing us safely through another year and praying for the future. Certainly, those traditional gatherings were made even more poignant by the events of 1863 which brought freedom to the slaves and the Year of Jubilee. Many generations have passed since and most of us were never taught the African American history of Watch Night. Yet our traditions and our faith still bring us together at the end of every year to celebrate once again "how we got over." "I love The Old Black Church."
Show Comments: OR

19 comments :

  1. Hey there!

    I looove Watch Night Services! I love when the entire congregation gets on their knees together at the altar and in the aisles and everything.

    I love the beginning year corporate fasts...

    It is my favorite time of year...the transition from the old to the new...

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
    Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the information! I hope you don't mind if I link to this story later on in the week.
    Blessings to you!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you so much for this beautiful piece of our history. I never knew!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great research, accuracy, and presentation. You've got it exactly right and I look forward to the service every year - the singing, praying, testifying, and of course the message. Pray for this year's service!

    ReplyDelete
  5. thank you for the historical information,,so many of us never knew this..i will never miss another watch night.,,we as african americans have so much to thank god for,,thank you my sister. norma weeks
    ocala,fl

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was born and raised in the black church by strong Christian parents and really enjoy the rich tradition of Watch Night Service. However, I am a person that researches everything I read before I actually believe it to be fact, despite how wonderful and uplifting it sounds.

    Thus, you may want to check out a link to www.snopes.com (among others) that indicates this tradition DID NOT originate in the African American community in association with the Emancipation Proclamation, ALTHOUGH it has been largely celebrated in the black church post-slavery.
    http://www.snopes.com/holidays/newyears/watchnight.asp

    So, I'm all about uncovering facts that give due credit (when it is many times withheld) to our community, one that is filled with rich traditions and more accomplishments than we can name. However, since truth and accuracy is most important, I wanted to share that it does not seem as though this one is historically and factually sound.

    God bless!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Snopes.com is not always a reliable source. Try taking african study courses or doing some research in the library of a Historically Black University and you will see in this instance snopes got it WRONG!

      Delete
  7. Mrs. Cassandra L. LyonsTuesday, 22 December, 2009

    A lot of things we hold unto in the black church is tradition, but guess what tradition is not saving souls. I don't attend watch night service, it's all about what Preacher can out preach and what choir can out sing the other, when you know better you do better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And guess what else, missing out on worshiping, praising and thanking Our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ into the new year in the house of GOD is not saving souls either. There is only one pastor preaching and one choir singing per church, so no competition there. It's an honour to hear the Word of GOD and lift up holy hands in the sanctuary. We also receive communion, it's beautiful. HE told us not to neglect the gathering of ourselves together. This is a perfect time to give thanks for being kept throughout the year. We are blessed beyond measure to be afforded the desire to worship HIM. Be blessed and give GOD the glory. Don't be deceived by what others do, seeking their own glory. that old serpent will use anything against us to deter us from going. When you know better, you do better. While other saints are getting their blessings, you are passing judgment, painting all watch night services with a wide brush. Your post is old, maybe you've changed you opinion. I hope you've found a true church with true worshipers to gather with on new years eve. I pray you have ears to hear. GOD bless you

      Delete
  8. I've enjoyed many years at various churches from Detroit, Los Angeles and Atlanta on New Years Eve. It's like a Holy Ghost Party (smile) and a blessed way to bring in the New Year!! Thanks for that bit of history as to tradition of Watch Night. sheri750@yahoo.ca

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hey there!

    I looove Watch Night Services! I love when the entire congregation gets on their knees together at the altar and in the aisles and everything.

    I love the beginning year corporate fasts...

    It is my favorite time of year...the transition from the old to the new...

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
    Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  10. thank you for the historical information,,so many of us never knew this..i will never miss another watch night.,,we as african americans have so much to thank god for,,thank you my sister. norma weeks
    ocala,fl

    ReplyDelete
  11. I love this story about watch night. I didn't know this, what an history......

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for that history, I have heard about it but just wanted to see for my self, So that I could pass this on to the none believers why it was called watch night.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thank You for the information. Wow never new that. Thanks again

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your welcome Deborah glad I could help!

      Delete
  14. Thank you for posting ! Watch Night has a more meaningful entrance into the New Year , more than the celebratory displays of jubilance displayed in Times Square .
    Jubilant indeed ,but simultaneously humble.
    Thank you again sweet sister for , posting....

    ReplyDelete
  15. We used to have watch night services in the (white) Baptist churches I attended in Western Virginia . I'm not sure where that tradition came from, but the African American story is much more compelling, I'm sure. Thanks for sharing the background.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I too being fifty plus years old is just now learning of the meaning of watch night service in the AA community. I even asked my mother in-law was she aware of the meaning of watch night service and she was not aware and she is seventy plus years old. I think when we attend watch nigh service, the meaning should be part of the service that is preached by the Pastor. I am in agreement with one comment where some of the Pastors are all about self instead of teaching the Word and the meaning of the Word to save souls

    ReplyDelete