WASHINGTON – As New Year's Day approached 150 years ago, all eyes were on President Abraham Lincoln. The nation was expecting what he warned would be coming just 100 days earlier: a final proclamation declaring all slaves to be free in Southern states rebelling against the Union.
The tradition of holding Watch Night services began Dec. 31, 1862, as many black church congregations awaited word that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect amid the ongoing Civil War.
This year, that tradition follows the document to its home at the National Archives, with a special midnight display planned with readings, songs and bell ringing among the nation's founding documents.
The official proclamation bearing Lincoln's signature and the United States seal will make a rare appearance beginning Sunday.