Candlewalk

Candlewalk

December 31
The American custom of seeing the old year out and the new year in with some type of Watch Night service can be traced back to England. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, advocated these kinds of services, believing New Year's Eve an appropriate time for religious observance. The first watch night services in the United States were held in St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia in the year 1770. Nowadays this type of service may be referred to as a "candlelight" service.
In some areas the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church holds distinctive Watch Night services. In rural Bladen County, North Carolina, an observance known as the Candlewalk combines pagan fertility rites with the Christian worship of the Virgin Mary. On Christmas Eve the women and the girls of the church walk deep into the swamp or forest, while the men and boys are threatened with a death curse if they follow. According to local legend, this period of withdrawal is for the purpose of sexual instruction. When the women return, they do so in a single file procession, bearing lighted torches or candles and singing ancient hymns in pidgin English, which some have misidentified as an African language. The women blow out their candles as they come into the church.
The New Year's Eve Watch Night ritual usually takes place close to midnight. It involves prayers, hymns, and sermons. Participants often dress in white and carry lit candles.
SOURCES:
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 544