Millions around the world are making preparations to celebrate the coming of the New Year. It is often seen as a joyful time, traditionally brought in by many by attending formal parties, church services, and choruses of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’
Unfortunately, the significance and historic symbolism of New Year’s Eve has been overshadowed in recent years by revelry and broken resolutions. Some in society have even discouraged the tradition of making resolutions, citing studies which tell us that only 8 percent of us keep them, and that resolutions may even be harmful to us!
But did you know that the Christian New Year’s Eve church service – also known as Watch Night Service – was created to bring Christians closer to God, and also has very special significance in the African American community?
WATCH NIGHT IN HISTORY
In America, however, another tradition was unfolding. In 1770, the first Watch Services were held in America at the St. George’s Methodist Church. Two slaves, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, were a part of thi
s congregation and they later left the church after being denied the right to pray alongside white worshipers. In 1794, they became the renowned founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.).
WATCH NIGHT SERVICE TODAY
Watch Night Services usually begin between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., and often end just past midnight. Today, the services may combine praise and worship, testimonies, and prophecy for the year to come, but many African American churches still honor Watch Night’s connection to the abolition of slavery.
Over 150 years has passed since the first “Freedom’s Eve,” and tradition now brings Christians of all colors together for worship and celebration each year. African American Christians have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since 1862, praising God for safe deliverance through another year: but, most importantly, honoring the ancestors’ prayers for a future of freedom and liberty.
Karen Lascaris is a regular contributor to Westa.org. She is the author of “In Our Own Image: Treasured African American Traditions, Journeys, and Icons”, published in 2001 by Running Press of Philadelphia.
 Forbes.com, “Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Years Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/. Accessed 12/26/2015.
 “Watch Night”; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchnight_service, accessed accessed 12-28-2015.
 “The Covenant Service”. http://www.methodist.org.uk/who-we-are/what-is-distinctive-about-methodism/a-covenant-with-god/the-covenant-service. Accessed 12/27/2015.
 “Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions”. LiveScience.com. http://m.livescience.com/42255-history-of-new-years-resolutions.html, accessed 12-28-15.
 “MetropolitanAMEC.org”. http://www.metropolitanamec.org/150th-anniversary-of-freedoms-eve.asp, accessed 12-28-2015.
 “First Watch Night Service Occurs”; The African American Desk Reference,
Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture. http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/first-watch-night-service-occurs, accessed 12-28-2015.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Not all Slaves were freed by the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Only 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves were freed at that time. Freedom’s Eve was a call to action for all Black Americans; a moral imperative to fight for the full realization of freedom for their brothers and sisters who were still enslaved.
- All enslaved Africans were freed from chattel slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy during the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery on December 18, 1865.
- In the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, the tradition of the late night service is called Midnight Mass or Eucharist. Like the Watch Night service of the Church of Scotland, it is attended on the night of Christmas Eve.
Praise the New Year in with West Angeles! Please join Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, the West Angeles Mass Choir, and other special guests for Watch Night Service at the West Angeles at the Cathedral, December 31, 2016 at 10 p.m. 3600 Crenshaw Boulevard, LA 90016.
Please join us for the Afterglow Breakfast! We’re having breakfast in the Crystal Room immediately following Watch Night Service, 12:30-2:30 a.m. on January 1, 2017. Cost: $10 per person in advance, $12 at the door. West Angeles North Campus, 3045 Crenshaw Boulevard, LA 90016. See you then!
January is Consecration Month. Please join West Angeles Church of God In Christ in fasting in prayer for the month of January, 2016. Complete guidelines and prayer calendar available in the lobby, and on Westa.org.