'Watch night' and curfew

'Watch night' and curfew

Monday, November 30, 2020

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Dear Editor,
The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we celebrate life events during 2020. In particular, church-led activities, that had become a cultural staple, now require a reordering which, for some, constitutes painful change.

Historically, the Church measured the time from nightfall, until the next night (sunset to sunset). Hence, early services on the eve of great festivals are as valid as those held during the sunrise to sunset time period. Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and some mainline Protestant churches begin their liturgical new year at Advent (Sunday, November 29, 2020). The Advent season consists of the four Sundays before Christmas Day (December 25).

The Christmas season is a 12-day festival ending with the feast of Epiphany (January 6). The civil new year January 1 is celebrated by Anglicans as Holy Name, and Roman Catholics celebrate the solemnity of Mary — a mass in which they give thanks for the life of the mother of Jesus.

It was the Roman Emperor Caesar who first instituted January 1 as the first day of the civil new year and, in accordance with a 1750 Act of Parliament, England and its colonies changed calendars in 1752 when the Julian Calendar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar, changing the formula for calculating leap years. The beginning of the legal or civil new year was moved from March 25 to January 1.

The first “watch night” held in Jamaica was on July 31, 1834 to greet Emancipation Day, August 1, 1834. The current celebration on December 31 is the adaptation of American abolitionists and others who waited for word — via telegraph, newspaper, or word of mouth — that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1862. That custom arrived in Jamaica with black missionaries from America, and later evolved as a service to greet the new civil year.

This service is also influenced by cultural myths such as “anywhere that the new year finds you, that is how you will spend the next 365 days”, resulting in the belief that “di new year should ketch yuh in church”. So each year hundreds scramble into a midnight service with 11:45 pm - 12:15 am as the most auspicious time, then numbers dwindle, most often to continue partying elsewhere until daylight.

With such an understanding of these cultural practices, the prime minister should be commended to ensure the well-being of Jamaicans by enforcing the 10:00 pm curfew.

Dudley C McLean II

Mandeville, Manchester


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