We are at the end of Year 2015.
The last day of the 365-day Western (Gregorian) calendar is generally referred to as New Year’s Eve. It is also known as Old Year’s Day. In some countries (Germany) it is also referred as Saint Sylvester’s day (Silvester) named after the burial day of Pope Sylvester I in the 3rd century.
Everyone has a different view of the last day of the year. Some may be stock taking the past 364 days while others are intensely working on New Year’s Resolutions. During midnight few sleep it over and many celebrate in the fun & frolic of ‘bubbly’. Others watch fireworks with the countdown or celebrate in their religious ways.
Some Christian churches conduct a vigil or Watch Night Service during the late night of New Years Eve. The oxford dictionary indicates that the word “vigil’ derived from the Latin ‘vigilia’ means ‘to watch (of the night)’ and is thus popularly to referred as the Watch Night Service.
The tradition of a Watch Night is to farewell the old year and to greet the new-year believed to be originated by the Bohemian Brethren (Moravians’) of the early Protestants during the 15th century. Currently the Moravian region is in the eastern part of present day Czech Republic. The idea of the watch night service was taken up by Charles Wesley and was introduced to Wesleyan missions who are now currently known as Methodist churches or Uniting Churches of Australia.
The New Years Eve vigil service of 1862 has a special significance for the African Americans. The then President of the U.S, Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary abolition of slavery (Emancipation proclamation) in September 1862 and made it official that “slaves within any state or designated part of state…. in rebellion…shall be then, thence forward and forever free.” And the act was to be carried out on January 1 1863.
Even though it was the preliminary proclamation then, one could visualise the spirit of being “Free” at the stroke of the midnight certainly would have influenced the nature of that year’s vigil service. Since then it was remembered as Freedom’s eve.
In same night Scottish heritage celebrate as Hogmanay (Hug-me-nay) with big fire balls but its etymology is lost in time. The celebration includes the “first footing” followed after midnight, focused on the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or relatives house.
Tamil Christians in Perth follow the traditional form of the watch night services held back in their homelands of India and Sri Lanka where the Christian worship was preceded by musical items provided by various families of the Congregation. Over the last 25 years the service has been expanded to include testimonies by members who have witnessed God’s blessings and interventions during the year. Very few churches in Perth conduct watch night services. The attendance therefore includes many non-members from inter-state and overseas, holidaying in Perth. The services are followed by Midnight Feast of “pongal” (pal-choru – sweet and savoury), kattai sambal, chundal, vadai and other traditional food normally associated with Tamil auspicious occasions.
Someone has be the first to Welcome the New Year in the world and that goes to the Samoan, Christmas and part of Kiribati Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. 26 hours later the Baker and Howland islands, part of the US minor outer islands, are the last to welcome the New Year on Earth.
Whichever way you celebrate your midnight “vigil” for 2015,
I wish you all a very bright peaceful 2016!