Watch Night

Watch Night is also a time to cook traditional food.


It’s been a while since I attended Watch Night services at church on New Year’s Eve. But many family members and friends still do, in between all the New Years Eve cooking that they are doing. Did you cook special foods on Watch Night to bring good luck? Greens are believed to attract dollars and beans will bring extra change! New Years Eve is a night that I keep up my family’s food traditions too. My greens were marinating as my beans cooked when I wrote this post. My Watch Night memories? Service at my preacher uncle’s Pentecostal church on New Years Eve stands out. The Gospel band rocked and the air was electric. My brother Sidney was 7 and I was 6. We accompanied our father to service where he played the piano. ‘Saved’ folks danced, shouted, spoke in tongues and some of them passed out. Then a crew of my ‘aunts’ wearing white dresses and gloves appeared and carried away those who passed out. They placed them on a side pew and fanned them until they revived. One aunt winked at us in the middle of all this commotion. I guess she was letting us little ‘un-saved,’ Catholic/Buddhists kids know that we would be okay. Although the ‘spirit’ scared the daylights out of us, we loved it too. I always wondered if the spirit was going to get us and take us away. No one ever mentioned the word ‘slavery’ at any Watch Night service that I can recall. In fact, today, some of my relatives get angry if I bring up that dreaded topic!

Genealogy/History: But I am a historian and a slavery expert. On New Year’s Eve I wish more Americans would pay attention to history and their genealogy. It’s all related—food, family, history etc. In fact, we are all related. We share many linked descendants because of our unique American slavery history. For example, I recently discovered a new DNA white cousin. But after I informed him that I was a person of color with a mixed heritage, he said: “There must be some mistake!” Sorry, buddy. DNA does not lie! We are third cousins!

Watch Night is part of genealogy search

Very few folks black or white care to remember that this historic night – Watch Night- is about slavery—the end of it. This year (2013) is the 153rd anniversary of the signing of the American Emancipation Proclamation—the end of the enslavement of Diasporan Africans. But, by now we all know that the emancipation was all an illusion. Slavery did not really end. The aftermath of slavery left deep wounds that continues to harm all of us. My white friend who discovered, through genealogy, that her ancestor lynched and murdered innocent black folks, is still today in 2016, very affected by her family’s past. Scientific evidence has proven that vast numbers of African Americans suffer from extensive racism caused by the aftermath of slavery.

”For more than one hundred years, scholars have written about the illusory nature of the Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln issued a declaration purporting to free slaves held in Southern Confederate states, but not a single black slave was actually free to walk away from a master in those states as a result. A civil war had to be won first, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and then—only then—were slaves across the South set free.” From ‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander, chapter 1, pp20, ’The Rebirth of Caste.’ To read more, click here for link.
Watch Night services were held in church on New Years Eve.

Year-end reflections: When I reflect on this year, I can say that despite amazing professional and personal achievements, I am glad it is over. Our planet needs healing in so many areas. We should start with grief therapy. I believe that we can all benefit from therapy, counseling. I hope more of us will seek help and enjoy the benefits of mental and spiritual wellness.

I am grateful for the Millennials who organized the Black Lives Matter movement and their intersectional allies. I am also encouraged to see more privileged people waking up. Today’s civil rights activists are stepping up. My parents and their allies were relentless. My generation—Boomers—grew up keeping the pressure on. My hope for 2016 is that today’s activists will find the strength to keep on keeping on– mobilizing our country to fight against caste systems, unfairness, and other destructive ways to people and the planet.

Seek art in all forms: Now more than ever, I feel that our chaotic world needs more artists—dancers, musicians, poets, writers, painters, actors, chefs, gardeners, builders, new media, and all forms of art. Only artists know how to express hopeful visions and tell simple, truthful stories that cannot be denied. I look forward to expanding my involvement with the arts especially for healing in 2016.

In honor of the 153rd anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, learn about US President Obama’s favorite artwork that he had installed on a White House wall, in the Oval Room. The painting “Waiting for the Hour” tells a pivotal American story about the hour that slavery ended on New Year’s Day. Click here to read the full article.

Watch Night recalls Emancipation Proclamation 150th anniversary stamp

Also art-related, in 2013, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the US Postal Service issued a specially designed stamp to mark the historic occasion. Click here to read about the stamp.

Do you attend Watch Night church service on New Year’s Eve? Did you make any resolutions for the New Year?