Many historically African American churches in the area will celebrate New Year’s Eve with Watch Night services, a tradition rich in history.

On Dec. 31, 1862, black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and homes, awaiting news about the Emancipation Proclamation. And at midnight Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed this law freeing all slaves in the Confederate States. 

When the news came, according to the African American Registry, “there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy, and many people fell to their knees and thanked God.”

Since that night 151 years ago, African Americans have gathered in churches on New Year’s Eve to praise God for bringing them safely through another year.

Some Methodist, Moravian and Baptist churches also celebrate Watch Night, but their celebration harkens back to John Wesley, who originated the services in 1740 as an alternative to drunken revelry.

When asked about his favorite part of the Watch Night service, Pastor Ernest Jeffries, of Gethsemane Baptist Church in Davidson, said, “It has to be the countdown to the New Year. Close to 12 a.m. we kneel in prayer and end the prayer with a countdown into the New Year. Then comes a great celebration of singing and fellowship.”

Pastor Byron Davis, of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Huntersville, said his favorite part is “celebrating God allowing us to begin anew.” 

Some local Watch Night services on Dec. 31 are at Solid Rock Christian at 9 p.m., Gethsemane Baptist (with Lake Forest-Davidson) at 10:30 p.m., and St. Phillip Baptist along with Mount Olive Baptist and Chapel Hill Baptist at 10:30 p.m.