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How May United Methodists Observe Jan. 1?

United Methodists may celebrate January 1 as Watch Night, New Year, or The Holy Name of Jesus. Photo by Pexels, courtesy of Pixabay.
United Methodists may celebrate January 1 as Watch Night, New Year, or The Holy Name of Jesus. Photo by Pexels, courtesy of Pixabay.

For many around the world, Jan. 1 is the day to celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year.

For United Methodists, there are at least three different options.

The first is Watch Night. Watch Nights began as an early Methodist practice involving an extended service of prayer, preaching and covenant renewal.

Such extended services were initially observed in Methodist societies several times a year, but over time came to be held on the night of Dec. 31 and into the early hours of Jan. 1. They were a way for Methodist society members to put behind whatever beset them in the old year and make a strong spiritual start to the new year.

This kind of Watch Night practice spread well beyond Methodism and became a hallmark of many Black church traditions in the United States. On Dec. 31, 1862, many Black Christians in the United States gathered for their Watch Night services to not only seek and celebrate freedom from their sins during the past year, but also in anticipation of physical, economic and political freedoms promised by the Emancipation Proclamation, which would become law on Jan. 1. That year and since, Watch Night is often also called “Freedom’s Eve.”  The African American Lectionary provides resources for Freedom’s Eve Watch Night services.

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The second is New Year’s Day. Most Protestant denominations in the United States had never had a covenanting tradition at New Year’s, but many did observe the beginning of the new year. Over the years, covenant renewal observance became less common among Methodists as well. Thus, in addition to resources for a covenant renewal, The United Methodist Book of Worship, following the Revised Common Lectionary, includes readings and other resources (#294) for New Year’s Day worship.

The third has been the most widely practiced historically and ecumenically: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Jan. 1 is the eighth day of Christmas, the day on which Jesus was circumcised and named. When United Methodists entered into full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2009, the church also began noting this designation for Jan. 1 in the Program Calendar and added its readings as another way to observe this day. If your congregation is in a community that is heavily Lutheran, Episcopalian or Catholic, observing the Holy Name of Jesus on Jan. 1 may be a good way to connect with the people where you live.

How will you observe Jan. 1 this year?


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