“President Lincoln had promised a proclamation emancipating slaves in the states in rebellion 99 days earlier; and on “watch night,” Americans of African descent faithfully “watched” for his proclamation to be issued on the 100th day,” and Frederick Douglass wrote “that December 31, 1862 was “a day for poetry and song, a new song. These cloudless skies, this balmy air, this brilliant sunshine, (making December as pleasant as May), are in harmony with the glorious morning of liberty about to dawn up on us.” See “On the Tradition of Watch Night.”
African American ancestors gathered New Year’s Eve on December 31, 1862, on what has been termed Watch Night. People of color and slaves across the country prayerfully ushered in the dawn of freedom for all. The eve of January 1, 1863 (The Emancipation Proclamation) marked the beginning of this yearly observance which is still celebrated today. See this AfriGeneas forum post to learn more: Slavery’s End Tradition.
“When the watchman says 1 minute to midnight, and begins to count down the seconds, the church will go dark, and the people will go down on their knees. They will pray the old year out and the new one in. When the New Year is announced, they will rise jubilantly,” Watch Night: A tradition of hope.
It is not difficult to see how long suffering and faithful the people of African descent had been up to the day of freedom here in the US and as evidenced on another Emancipation Eve Watch Night service held in an earlier time and different country. On August 1st, 1834, the emancipation bill passed by the House of Parliament went into effect, and 800,000 Africans under British rule said goodbye to slavery. This evening probably was no less joyous than it would be decades later in America:
O, who that was never a slave can conceive the emotions of slaves on the eve of such a tremendously glorious event to them — at length the clock struck the solemn sound–one, two three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve — and they were free. Slavery was over. “Ethiopia’ received her freedom on her knees. The chains fell off while she was literally stretching out her hands unto God.” They kneeled down slaves. They rose up freemen. Their first utterings when free where thanksgiving unto Jehovah, the several congregations on those many isles singing this noble doxology:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
See The Ladies Repository, Volume 18, pages 873-874.