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History of the New Year’s Watch Night Service.

Posted by Walter Gido on

History of the New Year’s Watch Night Service.

The Watch Night Services in Black communities can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862, also known as “Freedom’s Eve.”On that night, black people came together in churches and private homes all across the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law.

Just a few months earlier, on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the executive order that declared enslaved people in the rebelling Confederate States legally free. However, the decree would not take effect until the start of the new year.
Then, at the stroke of midnight, it was 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 as people fell to their knees and thanked God.Black folks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.
White enslavers feared that religion, which was often used to quell slave resistance, could incite the exact opposite if practiced without observance. They wrote laws that restricted worship and large gatherings, such as that in the 1848 Georgia Slave Code:
‘No person of color . . . shall be allowed to preach, to exhort, or join in any religious exercise with any persons of color, either free or slave, there being more than seven persons of color present.' —1848 Georgia Slave Code Despite these laws, enslaved people sought to exercise their own religious customs, including Christianity, Islam, and indigenous faith practices reflective of the homes from which they were stolen. They convened at praise houses on plantations or secretly gathered in the woods, where they practiced their faith under the protective cover of the trees and brush in what became known as “hush harbors.”
It’s been 160 years since that first Freedom’s Eve and many of us were never taught the African American history of Watch Night, but tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.”

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