Washington’s Christmas Crossing
Actors portraying Washington and his troops begin their journey across the Delaware River (Image courtesy of Beverly Schaefer and The Times of Trenton)
My family is quite low-key around the holidays, so I was very willing to do something new on Christmas Day this year. Surprisingly, I never knew about the annual Washington’s Crossing Reenactment until recently. As a history major and local history buff, I knew this would be an interesting and unconventional way to spend Christmas morning. Just as Jesse has a new Christmas Eve hiking tradition, I could see myself doing this every year.
For those of you who need a brief history recap, Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River happened in 1776. The crossing became infamous because it happened during the night of December 25th into the early morning of December 26th. After crossing from the Pennsylvania side, Washington and his troops landed near Titusville, NJ and marched about 8 miles South to Trenton, where the Hessians were station. They were commonly believed to be drunk, from Christmas festivities, however this was just a rumor. The Hessians were caught off guard though, and Washington’s troops were able to secure a victory that was a crucial turning point in the Revolution.
The annual reenactment is sponsored by the Friends of Washington Crossing Park, which is based out of the town of Washington Crossing in Bucks County, PA. The park is open all year round with historical buildings open for visitors and a new visitor center is currently under construction. The reenactment was scheduled to start at 1pm on Christmas Day, but since it was my first time attending I decided to do some research before I went. Apparently the event draws thousands and it was recommended to get there around 11:00 AM. Of course, my Dad and I got there around 12:30 instead, but it ended up working out. When we got to the bridge that now exists across the Delaware (and would have made Washington’s job a lot easier if it existed in 1776) we found out it was closed to traffic. The Hopewell Township police directed people to park on nearby streets. We ended up having to park a mile inland from the river and walking down. We got to the bridge and started walking to the Pennsylvania side, however, as it got closer to 1PM, people just decided to stop walking and created a bottleneck on the bridge. That was fine because standing on the middle of the bridge was probably the place with the best view anyway.
The troops began marching and Washington gave a speech that was broadcast to the huge crowd via speakers on both banks. There were four boats total and the first little boat, which I assumed was a scout boat, was launched around 1:30. I decided to walk back over to the Jersey side, which did not have much of a crowd at all, to watch the boats arrive. The scout boat was still paddling and ended up heading upstream and disappearing behind an island. Then the first boat, holding Washington prepared to leave. Again, this boat started paddling and never turned to face the Jersey side. Instead, it just paddled upstream. People around me were a bit confused, asking, “What happened to boat 1A?!” The announcer eventually began explaining events again, saying “You may be wondering why it appears that the boat is traveling in the wrong direction. Well the currents were determined to be too strong today and instead of crossing the river, the boats will be traveling upstream and stopping once they are behind that island.”
This resulted in a collective “boo” erupting from the Jersey side and a mass exodus of people, anxious to return to their warm houses and start the Christmas feast. The announcer tried to redeem the legitimacy of the reenactment, explaining that the night before Washington’s Crossing, the boats had to be brought from the Jersey side, and they were hidden behind the island to create surprise. So just as the boats were hidden from view in 1776, they were hidden in 2012. The common consensus from the crowd, though was, “if the real Washington was this wimpy, we never would have won the war!” In another attempt to entertain the crowd, the cannons were then fired, which I think would probably have blown Washington’s cover if they were fired in 1776.
Overall, I’m willing to give the yearly crossing another chance. Even though it was disappointing not to see Washington and his troops land, I still enjoyed myself. It was still a great way to spend Christmas Day remembering our history and appreciating the beautiful winter views of the Delaware. But New Jersey should remain vigilant, because Trenton is still up for taking this year.