A Tradition Worth Keeping: Watch Night Service

There are many traditions that we carry on without any knowledge of how it all started. Some traditions started with an initial purpose but its meaning evolves into something else. But, one tradition I definitely would like to see continue is the Watch Night Service.

The Watch Night Service is a well kept tradition in the African-American community. It is said to have begun in churches on New Years Eve, in 1862 in anticipation of the freeing of slaves by President Abraham Lincoln’s enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

Today, all over the United States, people in the African-American community will gather in churches for a late night service that can begin from 9:00 p.m. and end just after midnight. I believe the Watch Night Service has evolved to a gathering time of reviewing the past year, the past challenges God has brought us through, and a looking forward to how we will press on. The services I have attended included choir singing, multiple mini-sermons, and testimonies to the goodness of God.

I remember when I was younger, when my parents used to go out to celebrate, my brother and I would be home watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve celebration, seeing everyone celebrate, and kissing at midnight. It really made me want to have that kind of experience.

For most of my adult life,  New Year’s Eve has been spent at Watch Night services. There were no streamers, whistles or countdowns for that matter. What usually would happen at just before midnight, we would pray into the New Year, then hug and greet everyone with “Happy New Year”.

Twice in my adult life, I tried to get a taste of the Dick Clark-like New Year’s Eve hoopla, but it never felt like it looked on television. Funny how that happens, huh?

This year, I had planned to attend with my husband, but was tired and had a lot to do, so I stayed home. However, having tasted both, I plan to find myself this December 31st in a Watch Night Service praising God for who he is and his awesome works in my life, heartily singing his praises, listening to sermons and to testimonies of others to the goodness of God. That’s a tradition that’s worth keeping for me.


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