In a recent e-mail, Dave Eckert, who lived here for several years before moving to Oregon in 2005, recalled the beginning of Watch Night:
“In the mid 1990’s Barb Cram and I were appointed to the City’s Tricentennial Commission – Barb representing the Chamber and I representing the Village Society – we were looking for a kick-off event to start the City’s Tricentennial Year. I recommended that we have a New Years Eve celebration leading into the historic year at the historic crossroads of Washington and Broad Streets and that we call it Tricentennial Eve. The concept was to create an atmosphere and feeling one got from the classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” One in which everyone – organizations, businesses, churches governments, and individual – gave of their time and money to create the event. And one in which the streets were closed, everything felt magical, and everyone could freely attend without admission or tight security. And the entertainment would be local people you knew, rather than famous people from afar. This would be a “peoples” event – not a big corporate or big government event. Another former City resident Jackie Droujinsky agreed to co-chair the event with me. Despite 17 degree weather, we had a success of historic proportions.”
I, remembered the event like it happened yesterday–the beauty of having such a huge crowd walking in the middle of the downtown streets to celebrate, lots of folks from all ages and demographics — it was a sight to behold. That night at my store, Greenscape Design Studio, we sold over 1,000 of the Falls Church Tricentennial Eve Commemorative cached and postmarked envelopes! It was really cold and people stood in line wrapped around the store for a “day of cancellation” USPS envelope!
Watch Night fuses our many mini-communities together, creating a warm, caring, and gentle welcome to our City.
I was amazed at the turnout, businesses and civic groups that participated, and frankly I think all of us were startled at the popularity of the event
Dave said, “We decided to have another one for December 31, 1999 to end the Tricentennial Year – but we needed a new name. The Reverend Clyde Nelson of the Galloway United Methodist Church told me of an ancient African New Years (then it was on winter solstice) celebration that was later adopted by both African and European culture in colonial America. It was called Watch Night. And it had great cultural and spiritual meaning. That was it! I approached the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation Board (fortunately, I was vice-president at the time) and asked if we could be a major sponsor with the City and the Village Society and, in fact, take out a copyright on the name “Watch Night.” The Board agreed on the condition that the purpose of the copyright was to keep other corporate entities from using for profitable purposes. We wanted to keep the name sacred.”
Nikki Henderson, Executive Director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation recalls “It has been my pleasure to Watch Night grow from one block, one stage and one tent when Tinner Hill initiated the Watch Night name that following year, nearly 13 years ago. . . You’ll find old, young, black, white, singles, couples, families. . . folks from nearby communities- some as far away as Maryland gathering to share the warm spirit of the Little City and it’s residents and workers. Sure, entertainment, food and activities are all great. . . but what is really important about Watch Night is that it has continued the spirit in which Tinner Hill founded Watch Night in – community cooperation, collaboration and friendship.”
Watch Night’s balance of volunteers like LaRene Tondro and Janis Johnson (4 year each); enthusiastic businesses and professionals; spirited and committed community and civic groups, as well as performers who enjoy sharing their talents with their hometown supporters and friends and neighbors is the secret of our New Year’s Eve Celebration’s success. “…a great venue for student bands. Audiences are always amazed at how good they are,” says Community Outreach Director, FCCPS Marybeth Connelly, who has volunteered together with Mary Lynn Hickey and Sally Cole of the Falls Church Chamber to help with Watch Night ever since I can remember!
Watch Night fuses our many mini-communities together, creating a warm, caring, and gentle welcome to our City. Just last year, the Washington Post Express said it was “the coolest New Year’s Eve event” for families.
Barry Buschow former VPIS president, and longtime WN volunteer agrees “What a wonderful and meaningful way to spend the last couple of hours of each year, with your friends, family and the community, downtown in a wonderful setting of music, fun and friendship. That’s Watch Night in the City of Falls Church!”
What makes a Happy New Year? Start it out and end it right at Watch Night!
Barabra Cram is the volunteer coordinator of Falls Church’s Watch Night celebration.