New Year’s Eve May Be the Key to Your Best Year Yet
Learn the significance of New Year’s Eve – also known as “Watch Night” – and the traditions designed to bring Christians closer to God.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn” –Mark 13:35 (NIV)
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. Many discourage the tradition of making resolutions; citing the studies which say that only 8% 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 is also known as Watch Night service? Did you know that the service was created to bring Christians closer to God, and that it also has a very special significance to the African American community?
WATCH NIGHT IN HISTORY
John Wesley, the British founder of the Methodist Church, adopted the Czech practice of celebrating Watch Night, along with other English Puritan principles, when he instituted the Methodist Covenant Renewal Services. These services were started in August of 1755 as a means of creating for Christians a more formalized and personal connection and covenant with God. British Methodism soon developed the custom of holding these Covenant services near the beginning of the New Year. The service was preceded by a period of preparation through prayer, fasting, reflection and self- examination, which has been credited as the modern source of today’s New Year’s Resolution. The singing, prayers of allegiance and gratitude, testimonials, and scripture readings provided Methodist Christians with a Godly alternative to other secular ways of celebrating the day.
WATCH NIGHT SERVICE TODAY
Watch Night Services usually begin between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., and often end just past midnight. Today’s 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.
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.