The tradition of Watch Night began Dec. 31, 1862, when thousands of African American men, women and children, as well as abolitionists ,prayed and “watched” for the coming of God’s deliverance. That expected deliverance came in the form of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863.
One hundred and fifty years later, an extraordinary version of Watch Night will be offered by the National Archives with a display of the original document with Lincoln’s signature from 10 a.m. on Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. on Jan. 1. Additional hours are Dec. 30, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Jan. 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibit is free.
This year, Watch Night will also be celebrated at President Lincoln’s Cottage with a Freedom’s Eve event from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., billed as “a party with meaning.” The cottage is sometimes referred to as the “Cradle of the Emancipation Proclamation” because Lincoln worked on a draft of the presidential order there. Tickets are available for $100 per person, and the party will include live music, an open bar and a dessert buffet.
Other Watch Night celebrations include free events on the National Mall, at the California State Capitol and at several churches. The National Park Service is offering activities on the Mall from 10 a.m. to midnight, including programs for children, a vigil for the Proclamation, a lantern led walk around the Mall’s monuments and a reenactment of a Freedom’s Eve vigil.
At the California State Capitol, a program is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m., Dec. 31.
Church celebrations include those at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington D.C., which will celebrate Watch Night with a free program of music and prayers from 10 p.m. to midnight; the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort, S.C., which has scheduled a 10 p.m. to midnight Emancipation Day service; and Falls Church Episcopal in Falls Church, Va.,is the location for a free program from 7 to 8 p.m. sponsored by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, the Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee and the City of Falls Church.
Do you know of other celebrations of Watch Night? Please add them in the comments section.