Skip to Content

What is Watch Night and why Black Americans celebrate it on New Year’s Eve

Remaining Ad Time Ad - 00:00
Watch Night Cropped 12-31-2020
Photo Courtesy: Library of Congress
African American men, women, and children gathered around a man with a watch, waiting for the Emancipation Proclamation.

EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) - Many of us are waiting to ring in the new year, but for some Black Americans, this is a reminder of when their ancestors ushered in freedom.

It's a tradition that's not commonly talked about: Watch Night.

UW-Eau Claire history professor Selika Ducksworth-Lawton said Watch Night, or a Watch Night service, dates back to December 31, 1862 when slaves were waiting for soldiers to deliver the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that it was supposed to take effect on New Year's Day.

Ducksworth-Lawton said today, it's common for places with large black communities like New Orleans, Atlanta or Houston to have watch night services at churches.

The professor said she actually grew up going to Watch Night in Louisiana and even celebrates with her own family in Eau Claire now by praying together at midnight.

"It links me to my culture.  It links me to my heritage.  And it links me to this idea of freedom," Ducksworth-Lawton said. "We celebrate it to remember what our ancestors went through, what our ancestors have overcome and to affirm that we will not stop until our descendants are all treated without discrimination."

She added Watch Night is also linked to Juneteenth, a day in 1865 when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger informed the people of Texas that all enslaved people were free.

Christ Temple Apostolic Church in Eau Claire has its own watch service on New Year's Eve, which focuses on the spiritual aspect of the night.

It starts Thursday at 10:30 p.m.

Katrina Lim

Katrina Lim joined the News 18 team in August 2019 as a multimedia journalist. She was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey but has lived in all time zones of the contiguous U.S.A.

Skip to content