Watchnight service

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A watchnight service at a Lutheran Christian church on New Year's Eve (2014)

A watchnight service (also called Watchnight Mass) is a late-night Christian church service. In many different Christian traditions, such as those of Moravians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Adventists and Reformed Christians, watchnight services are held late on New Year's Eve, which is the seventh day of Christmastide.[1][2][3][4] This provides the opportunity for Christians to review the year that has passed and make confession, and then prepare for the year ahead by praying and resolving.[5] The services often include singing, praying, exhorting, preaching, and Holy Communion.[2][6]

Watchnight services can take the form of Watchnight Covenant Renewal Services, Watchnight Vespers services, Watchnight Vigil services, or Watchnight Masses.[7] As Watchnight services bring in the New Year by glorifying God, they are seen by many Christians as being preferable to "drunken revelry" in popular cultural celebrations that are commonplace in some localities.[6]

In addition to Christian denominational traditions, the ethnic traditions of Koreans and African Americans have a strong tradition of New Year's Eve watchnight services.[7][8]


The Bible documents that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, God ordered Moses to "set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation" on "the first day of the first month" (Exodus 40:1).[9]

In Christianity, since the time of the early Church, Christians have held vigils (watchnights) before the celebration of feast days, a practice "inspired by Jesus's example of praying all night before important decisions."[10] At that time, non-Christians of the Greco-Roman world observed the arrival of the New Year with "revelling" and Christians distinguished themselves by instead praying and fasting.[11]

Throughout history, Christian denominations including the Catholic Church, Lutheran Church and Anglican Church have variously observed the eighth day of Christmastide—New Year's Day—as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, Feast of the Holy Name and Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, with the evening before having the Vigil Mass (Watchnight Mass) for the feast.[12][13]

The Moravian Church came to hold a lovefeast on New Year's Eve, followed by a watchnight service in the evening.[14] These watchnight services last three hours and have been held since they became popular in the Czech Republic in 1733.[13]

After attending a Moravian watchnight service on New Year's Eve in 1738, John Wesley, the father of the Methodist Churches, recorded that "as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground."[15] The Methodist Churches, strongly influenced by the Moravian Church and Radical Pietism in general, herald the practice of the Watchnight Service, with John Wesley having emphasized that it was "customary with the ancient Christians to spend whole nights in prayer".[16][13]

The practice of holding watchnight services on New Year's Eve became common throughout Christendom, with many Christian denominations now offering them.[17]

By Christian denomination[edit]


In the Moravian Church, congregations observe a watchnight service on New Year's Eve, which is preceded by the celebration of the lovefeast.[1][18] The three-hour watchnight service of Moravian Christians traces back to at least 1733.[13]


Following the lead of the Moravian Brethren who began having "watch" services in 1733, the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, adopted watch night services in 1740, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal Services.[6][13][19] The services provided Methodist Christians with a godly alternative to times of drunken revelry, including New Year's Eve.[6] Today, a Methodist watchnight service includes singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, as well as scripture readings and Holy Communion; the liturgy for this service, which is held on New Year's Eve, is found in Methodist liturgical books, such as The United Methodist Book of Worship.[5][20][2]


In the Lutheran Churches, Watchnight Masses are celebrated with the purpose of "welcoming the new year with praises to Almighty God."[3]

Catholic Church[edit]

In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, Mass can be held on New Year's Eve into New Year's Day around midnight; these are sometimes called the "Watch Night Mass" or "Watchnight Mass".[21] The Archdiocese of Nassau has watchnight services at parishes throughout the ecclesiastical territory.[4]


Many Anglican parishes hold watchnight services, including several cathedrals, among them being Ripon Cathedral, St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore and Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos.[22][23]

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America contains a liturgy for the Watchnight Service in The Book of Occasional Services. [13] In The Living Church, Fr. William M. Lawbaugh stated that "Watchnight Services on New Year’s Eve have a lot to offer the Episcopal Church, not only to dispel the ugly notions of alcohol abuse but also to reform ourselves."[13] The Anglican watchnight service includes "lessons, psalms, and collects" as well as Holy Communion.[12]


Watchnight on December 24 at the Church of Scotland church in Rattray

In the Presbyterian Churches, watchnight services are held on New Year's Eve (Hogmanay); they often include the singing of hymns and the sharing of testimonies by congregants, such as how God has blessed them that year.[17][24] St Cuthbert's Church, Edinburgh, a parish of the Church of Scotland, is known for its New Year's Eve watchnight service.[citation needed] In the Church of Scotland, a Watchnight service also refers to a popular ceremony marking the beginning of Christmas Day.[25]


In many Congregationalist Churches, such as the United Church of Christ, watchnight services are held on the night of New Year's Eve.[26]

Continental Reformed[edit]

The Continental Reformed Churches, such as parishes of the United Reformed Church, offer Watchight Services on New Year's Eve.[27]


Watchnight services are held on New Year's Eve in many Baptist churches, with a focus on "renewed consecration and drawing nearer to the Saviour".[28]


In Adventist churches, watchnight services are celebrated on New Year's Eve with "testimonies, praise songs, [and] psalms" in order to "give God thanks for keeping us through a trying year and asking his guidance as we anticipate the new year and Him leading us in that period".[29]


Many Pentecostal churches hold watchnight services in the late hours of New Year's Eve.[30]

Ethnic traditions[edit]

African Americans[edit]

Group of African Americans waiting for midnight on New Year's Eve 1862

African-American Methodists long celebrated watchnight services as Methodist parishes in the United States, such as St. George's United Methodist Church and Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, held them on New Year's Eve in accordance with Methodist customs.[31] Watchnight services gained additional significance and history in the Black churches in the United States, since many African Americans were said to have gathered in churches on New Year's Eve in 1862, on what was called Freedom's Eve,[32] to await the hour when President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was to take effect on January 1, 1863.[8] As such, watchnight services in the Black Church are widely attended.[33]

Korean community[edit]

Korean Christians have a strong tradition of watchnight services on New Year's Eve.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Watchnight Service". Ephraim Moravian Church. 16 January 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Watch Night of Freedom". Discipleship Ministries. 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2021. The Watch Night service is today most often held on New Year's Eve, sometimes concluding at midnight, or on New Year's Day.
  3. ^ a b "Watchnight Service". Bangsar Lutheran Church. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Christmas & New Year's Mass Schedules". Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau. 20 December 2017. Archived from the original on 13 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b James Ewing Ritchie (1870). The Religious Life of London. Tinsley Brothers. p. 223. Retrieved 28 December 2011. At A Watch-Night Service: Methodism has one special institution. Its lovefeasts are old-old as Apostolic times. Its class meetings are the confessional in its simplest and most unobjectionable type, but in the institution of the watch-night it boldly struck out a new path for itself. In publicly setting apart the last fleeting moments of the old year and the first of the new to penitence, and special prayer, and stirring appeal, and fresh resolve, it has set an example which other sects are preparing to follow.
  6. ^ a b c d Anna M. Lawrence (5 May 2011). One Family Under God: Love, Belonging, and Authority in Early Transatlantic Methodism. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0812204179. Retrieved 28 December 2011. In 1740, Wesley started watch-night services for the coal miners of the Kingswood area, offering this nocturnal worship as a godly alternative to spending their evenings in ale-houses. The watch-night services consisted of singing, praying, exhorting, and preaching for a number of hours. Wesley meant to establish it as a monthly practice, always at full moon to keep the meeting well lit. In America, this service often supplanted times of traditional drunken revelry, like New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve.
  7. ^ a b c "Watch Night/New Year's Eve Resources". Discipleship Ministries. 2020. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Watch Night services provide spiritual way to bring in New Year". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 28 December 2011. Watch Night took on even more significance during the Civil War. When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was to take effect Jan. 1, 1863. Free and enslaved people gathered the night before, waiting for their freedom to arrive at midnight.
  9. ^ Winfield, Jerry (1 January 2014). "Ideas for a Great New Year's Eve Church Service". LifeWay Christian Resources. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  10. ^ Kinghorn, Kenneth C. (1999). The Heritage of American Methodism. Abingdon Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-687-05500-5. Early in church history, Christians held vigils during the evenings before church festivals. These vigils, or watch night services, seem to have been inspired by Jesus's example of praying all night before important decisions.
  11. ^ Kurtz, Johann Heinrich; Macpherson, John (1891). Church History. Hodder and Stoughton. p. 357.
  12. ^ a b Mitchell, Leonel L. (1991). Planning the Church Year. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8192-1554-3.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Lawbaugh, William (30 December 2016). "Bring Back Watchnight". The Living Church. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  14. ^ Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society. Moravian Historical Society. 1902. p. 70.
  15. ^ Liardon, Roberts (12 September 2014). God's Generals the Missionaries. Whitaker House. ISBN 978-1-62911-161-2.
  16. ^ Vogel, Dwight; Drury, John; Dalles, John; Brumm, James Hart; Switzler, Nancy; LaJoye, Jenny (2019). Sacramental Life Volume 31.3: (Ordinary Time 2019). OSL Publications. p. 17.
  17. ^ a b Magoffin, E.V.D. (10 January 1917). Herald and Presbyter. Monfort & Company. p. 9.
  18. ^ "2018 New Year's Eve Watchnight Lovefeast". Moravian Church Southern Province. 14 December 2018.
  19. ^ "Watch Night services provide spiritual way to bring in New Year". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 28 December 2011. Methodism founder John Wesley originated Watch Night services in the mid-18th century, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal services. The original services were spontaneous prayer services designed to deepen the spiritual life of Methodists.
  20. ^ "Watch Night services provide spiritual way to bring in New Year". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 28 December 2011. The service is loosely constructed with singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, and readings, including the Covenant Renewal service from The United Methodist Book of Worship (pp. 288-294).
  21. ^ "New Year's Eve Watch Night Mass". Our Lady of Lourdes Atlanta. 2015.
  22. ^ "WatchNight Service". Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos. 31 December 2015.
  23. ^ Priestley, Joe (27 November 2018). "The Season of Advent". Ripon Cathedral. On New Year's Eve our atmospheric Watchnight Service takes place at 11.15pm. The short carol service is followed by a candlelit procession to the Market Square where Bishop Helen-Ann will give a blessing just before midnight and the New Year is brought in with fireworks.
  24. ^ Clark, D. Marion (27 December 2013). "Christmas Highlight: New Year's Eve Watch Night Service". Tenth Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  25. ^ "Christmas Eve Christmas Day and Boxing Day Services". The Times. London. 17 December 2005. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
  26. ^ Hill, J. Lee (2020). "Watchnight Service—December 31, 2020 - Year B". United Church of Christ. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  27. ^ Bali, Jacob. "Crossway URC Church". Crossway United Reformed Church. Retrieved 2 January 2021. New Years' Eve (Watchnight): live Service at 11.30pm on Zoom
  28. ^ The Missionary Herald of the Baptist Missionary Society. Baptist Missionary Society. 1898. p. 276.
  29. ^ Cross, Jason (30 November 2020). "COVID curfew can't cramp watchnight for Adventists". The Gleaner. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  30. ^ Hinton, John (30 December 2020). "Many churches in Winston-Salem will hold virtual Watch Night services on New Year's Eve". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  31. ^ Chism, Jonathan Langston (31 December 2010). "The African American Lectionary". The African American Lectionary. Retrieved 4 December 2021. The first Methodist Watch night service in the United States probably took place in 1770 at Old St. George's Church in Philadelphia, a church of which Richard Allen, the founder of the African American Episcopal church, was a member. African American Methodists celebrated Watch Night prior to Freedom's Eve because Allen and other African Americans celebrated Watch Night Meeting services at St. George's Church and also at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.
  32. ^ Charles, Safiya (20 July 2022). "The Meaning of Watch Night". Southern Living. Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  33. ^ Harrell, Joan R. (31 December 2012). "Watch Night Service In The Black Church In America: 150 Years After The Emancipation Proclamation". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 January 2021.

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