2024-05-20 2:14 AM

Guest Commentary: As ‘Watch Night’ Approaches, A Look Back

I often hear this, so here is some history of a special event which I so enjoy and find so special: Watch Night, The Big Night In The Little City, the special New Year’s Celebration in Falls Church.

In 1995, I was one of many who were appointed to the City’s Tricentennial Committee. That group contributed many legacy projects that continue to serve the City. In addition to memorabilia, there were many projects undertaken including a kick-off celebration for December 31, 1998, “Tricentennial Eve.” Businesses and churches were open, street vendors were out, entertainment was in each location. That night at the Greenscape location at 130 N. Washington, we sold 1,000 of the special Falls Church Tricentennial Cover and Postmark/Cancellation envelopes. People patiently waited in line to have their special hand cancellation done by the USPS which came and set up temporary shop at Greenscape. In my mind, by that watermark alone, it was clear that the New Year’s Eve plan to kick off the Tricenttennial was quite a success! And there were plenty of others who agreed.

Businesses who had opened their doors, churches who freely gave of their space and let organizations plan and execute the program and entertainment were happy to hear of a plan to repeat this wonderful celebration. As a business owner myself, I loved the idea of seeing so many of our friends and neighbors in our closed streets having fun and walking to and from the venues throughout the downtown. I felt prouder than ever to be a part of this fun.

When Dave Eckert saw the success he was determined to repeat the process and researched “First Night” as a possible name, but quickly rejected it when he found out that “you have to pay the Boston NGO a licensing fee and had to follow all of their arcane rules. Most egregious was the fact that you have to charge people to enter. The fee requirement significantly drives up the administrative and security costs.” This package and the costs eliminated that as a possibility. Secondly, “it demanded too much work for a volunteer leader and I wanted to keep the event small, local, and inexpensive.” As Vice-President of The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, Dave found the name Watch Night appealing. “I did more research and found that Watch Night was originally from Africa and the purpose was to watch in the new year to ensure that the sun came up and the day got longer again.”

Watch Night’s success depends on the many supporting organizations here in town who do so much during the year.’

Dave then added, “African slaves in America and the protestant church adopted the African tradition and changed it for their purpose. I preferred the initial meaning of the term.” The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation then applied for and received a copyright on the phrase, so that no one would ever profit off the name, as they did with “First Night” in Boston.

“After managing the event for the first seven years on a volunteer basis, my family moved to Corvalis, Oregon. This free, open-to-the-public, family-oriented Watch Night celebration thrives while most the the ‘entrance fee-based’ programs are failing due to the economy.”

For the last six years, I have tried to energetically and thoughtfully improve the program each year so that people of all ages could have the fun that I do on this special evening. It is heartwarming for me to see our churches, groups, and businesses who “loan” their properties, provide staff, and let us use their facilities as venues.

Watch Night’s success depends on the many supporting organizations here in town who do so much during the year – the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, the Village Preservation and Improvement Society, The Victorian Society at Falls Church, and The Unity Club.

I want to especially thank the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and their individual members who keep this event alive with their very generous and widespread support both in cash and contributions in kind, the City, and the Falls Church Econoomic Development Authority. I could go on and on here mentioning all of the groups, people, that extend their goodwill not only for Watch Night but throughout the year. Thanks to all who make our City special, particularly Howard Herman, Robert Goff and Butch Goff and their teams who I have worked with over the years “in the trenches”. They are so much more than City Staff. All I can say is “there is a lot of love for our City and what we do”. It is a great gift to us all, and Watch Night is a culmination of this special spirit here in Falls Church – giving and sharing – I am honored to be part of it.

This year will be an especially good one with our theme of “Falls Church? Got Talent!” and do we! See you there!


Barbara Cram is the chief organizer of the City of Falls Church’s New Year celebration “Watch Night”






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