At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1862, the new year was ushered in … and at 12:01 AM, on January 1, 1863,
ALL SLAVES IN THE CONFEDERATE STATES WERE DECLARED LEGALLY FREE.
Many of you who live or grew up in Black “Communities in the United States have probably heard of “Watch Night Services,” the gathering of the faithful in churches on New Year’s Eve. But are you aware of its history? 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. Like many others, I always assumed that Watch Night Service was a fairly standard Christian religious service — made a bit more Afro-Centric because that’s what happens when elements of Christianity become linked with the Black Church. Still, it was obvious that predominately White Christian churches did not include Watch Night Service on their calendars, but focused instead on Christmas Eve programs… In fact, there were instances where clergy in mainline denominations wondered aloud about the propriety of African Americans linking a religious service to a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve.
However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year’s Eve services in African American congregations. The Watch Night Services in Black communities that we celebrate today can be traced back to gatherings across the South on December 31, 1862, known at that time as, “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had actually become law.
Then, at the stroke of midnight, it became January 1, 1863, and all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy throughout the South as people fell to their knees and thanked God
Ever since, Black folks have traditionally gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve, praising God for bringing us safely through another year, but many do not realize the historic value.
It’s been 145 years since that first Freedom’s Eve and many of us were never taught the African American history of the Watch Night Service, but tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.”—(this post is from a dear African-American friend.)