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Churches Ring in New Year with Watch Night Service - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Churches Ring in New Year with Watch Night Service

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Thousands of people will spend New Year's Eve at a bar, club or other large event, but some will ring in 2013 at church. It is a tradition that goes back more than 100 years in the African-American community.

The tradition began 150 years ago on December 31, 1862, as many black church congregations awaited word the Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect, coining the phrase "watch-night." But over the years, watch night service has taken on its own identity in Charlottesville.

Dr. Alvin Edwards, the pastor at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, has been leading the tradition since 1981.

Five church congregations gathered at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church Monday night at 10:00 for the New Year's Eve service. While many will spend the evening in other atmospheres, Edwards says there is something unique about having a spiritual celebration.

"I think the difference in going to a bar it's almost like you need a substance to help you to relax to open up to be free. Here you can be free in the spirit. Here you can be free in the fact to express and say thank you Lord with joy and exclamation," Dr. Edwards said.

Also in honor of the tradition, a special midnight display of the Emancipation Proclamation will take place in Washington, D.C.

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