The Origin of the Watch Night Service
By Claude Jay
On December 31, people around the world will gather to celebrate waiting and watching as 2009 goes out and the New Year 2010 comes in. Just a short subway ride from Harlem, thousands of people will gather to watch the ball drop In Time Square. As we look back on 2009, there is much to reflect on in our lives, in our neighborhoods, city, state, country and world.
In January 2009, we witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States of America. I was in Washington, DC on that very cold day to witness this milestone in America. It has been a year of triumphant and jubilance. At the same time, there is the reality our country is involved in two wars Afghanistan and Iraq. Added to this, the collapse of our economy and the reality we are in a recession. It has been a year 2009; we have all been affected and touched. These effects have brought major and minor adjustments in our lives. Many have landed on the hardest times.
As we approach the end of 2009 and feeling the weight of this year, I would like to share with you a New Years Eve in American History where we can find Hope. It was a New Years Eve like none other, a time of celebration. It was a Watch Night Service on December 31, 1862, 147 years ago. A night of watching the old year go out and the dawn of a new year, a new beginning in America, the year slaves in America were Free. At 12 midnight, on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed, “all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.”
For African Americans, New Years Eve and the date of the Emancipation of Slaves in America are synonymous. “The Watch Night Service”, celebrates, acknowledges and remembers this celebratory moment, when freedom was won. However, the realities of the years of slavery are ever present.
Though it is a historical fact, many do not know the significance nor have they connected the dots between New Years Eve and the Emancipation of Slavery. I encourage you to celebrate, “The Watch Night Service” share the facts and acknowledge the historical significance of the deliverance from Slavery to Freedom.
It took the Civil War, pressure from abolitionist and the perseverance of the slaves for The President of the United States of America, President Abraham Lincoln to finally issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
Dr. John Hope Franklin a renowned Historian, who passed away March 2009; in his book, “From Slavery to Freedom”, Dr Franklin states, “By the end of December 1862 the suspense of… the final proclamation was so great that even before it was read it assumed the significance of one of the great documents of all times.” Dr. Franklin further states, “On December 31, watch night meetings were held by Negroes and whites in many parts of the country at which prayers of thanksgiving were offered for the deliverance of the Negro.” At Tremont Temple in Boston Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriett Beecher Stowe and other fighters of freedom gathered to hear the words of the emancipation…”
On that night, December 31, 1862 like no other December 31 before, they watched the old year change into a new year and victory through God had been won and a new year and FREEDOM had begun. There were new challenges in the years to come, but on this date freedom was won.
So as we approach the end of 2009, in a year where we participated in the inauguration of the first African American President of the United States of America, President Obama, let us keep the faith! This extraordinary accomplishment is rooted in those men and women who were slaves and believed the impossible is possible. It was their hope, faith, perseverance and endurance that has got us this far.
So, with the difficulties and challenges of 2009, let us look to that Watch Night for hope! Be grateful and thankful for our blessings. Let us draw on the endurance, strengthen and faith of those who have gone before us and let us too believe that the impossible is possible!
Have a Bless, Healthy, Prosperous and Happy New Year- 2010!
Claude Jay HarlemMyLove@aol.com Copyright 2009
Editor’s Note: This is a re-post from December 16th, 2009.