I often hear the question of why is it called “Watch Night” and not “First Night” or something else. A quote some years ago from former citizen activist, Dave Eckert explains much about the why “Watch Night.”
In 1998, when Barb Cram and I were on 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. I recommended 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 large government event. Former City resident Jackie Droujinsky agreed to co-chair the event with me. Despite 17 degree weather, it was a success of historic proportions. We thought we were done, but when the children of Falls Church expressed how much fun they had, we knew we were not done yet. 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 it for profitable purposes. We wanted to keep the name sacred.
Well, that was over a decade ago. Jackie moved away and people kept wanting the event, so I kept organizing it until 2005 until my family moved to Oregon (in 2006). I am so pleased and humbled that Barb Cram and everyone in Falls Church has carried on to create the continuous sense of home, family, and community that was originally intended for ushering in the new year in Falls Church City. More than ever before, we all need to celebrate community. And as long as Watch Night remains a locally-run, free event in which everyone pitches in to help, it will be a wonderful life.
Watch Night’s success depends on funding, participation and local talent. This year Kiddar Capital has joined Watch Night as a new lead sponsor of the 18th annual Watch Night Falls Church, joining the City of Falls Church and The Little City Catch Foundation, City of Arts, Theater, Culture and History. There are an extensive number of sponsors, host venue and contributing sponsors who fund Watch Night to keep it free and open to all.
Now in its eighteenth year, the many volunteers, community groups, organizations, businesses, and churches that give time, talent and donate funds, materials, space and energy continue to make it all happen.
Local bands play a wide variety of music: roots, rock, big band and motown sound. Watch Night is for those who are seeking a fun, free, family event.
Watch Night offers free balloons and popcorn, many colorful inflatable amusements for all ages, puppet shows, dancing, karaoke, Main Stage live music, featuring very popular local artists – Sudden M Pac, Big Tow and Out of Line.
Caricaturists, facepainters, balloon artists, puppeteers are featured at the Falls Church Presbyterian Church along with the Cowboy Hay one-man band and the Northern Lights Big Band Orchestra. Doctors Theisz and Cannon are hosting their annual scavenger hunt, Tiger Belly moonbounce and live music – “Bad Hair Day.”
Great photo opportunities abound: LOVEwork in front of George Mason Square. The LOVEwork comes from the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s “Virginia is For Lovers” campaign.
Volunteers take photos with the visitor’s own phone or camera at the LOVEwork venue. “I wish I could….”
There will be a Chalkwalk sponsored by Falls Church Arts and fireplaces and fire pits loaned from Sisler’s Stone.
A Watch Night shuttle runs on the half-hour at East Falls Church Metro Station (7 p.m. – 11 a.m.) and there will be free parking. For more information, visit WatchNightFallsChurch.org.
Barb Cram is the lead organizer of Watch Nigh Falls Church.