By Will Sohn
The winter season is filled with lights, music, food, and many other holiday-themed activities. But nearby, activity of a different sort is underway to reenact a momentous event in American History—the crossing of the Delaware River and the ensuing Battle of Trenton.
The Battle of Trenton is commemorated on Christmas Day at Washington Crossing Historic Park, which is a 10-minute drive from Newtown. The park has reserved multiple historic buildings and Durham boats used for the crossing. The park also holds special colonial-era activities and demonstrations throughout the historic village, which many people visit. As students, we appreciate learning about Colonial American History even more because of how close we are to this piece of the American Revolution. In addition to touring and preserving the park, the Washington Crossing Historic Park commemorates the crossing through their annual Christmas reenactment.
In the winter of 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, General George Washington led the tattered Continental Army to a surprise-attack victory over the Hessian soldiers. At this time, the morale of the American troops was at an all-time low. The soldiers lacked clothing, food, and ammunition, while Washington would have to deal with the soldiers’ expiring enlistments at the end of the year.
Thus, General Washington created a bold plan to cross the Delaware River and to strike a Hessian outpost in Trenton. Washington’s plan was expected to take action Christmas evening and attack the German mercenaries at night, while they slept. However, crossing the Delaware River delayed the attack until the morning of the 26th. Washington’s victory sparked new life into the American Revolution—otherwise, the revolution’s aim may have met an early demise.
The reenactment is free and takes place on December 25 from 12-3pm; however, the actual crossing begins at 1 pm. The full dress rehearsal takes place 2 or 3 weeks before; admission is charged for the rehearsal, but not for the Christmas Day reenactment.
This year’s rehearsal already took place on December 10; however, the boats did not cross at the rehearsal this year due to the low water levels.
Kevin Zimmerman, an actor in the crossing, said that he has been involved in this event for two years while working at the park.
“I felt the need to express the history and the push to show what it was really like during [the colonial] time,” Zimmerman said when asked why he wanted to join this act.
He also said that another cannon group will be added to the reenactment this year. However, the highlight of the event is crossing the Delaware River by several Durham boats, led by a modern-day George Washington. Some years, the crossing does not take place if the weather conditions are inclement or the river becomes icy. In this case, the ceremony continues but excludes the crossing from the performance.
The Christmas Day crossing draws thousands of people, near and far, each year. This annual event gives us a greater appreciation for crossing the Delaware River and George Washington’s victory in the Battle of Trenton that helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. Visiting the park in past years has been fun and interesting, and I would encourage everyone to watch the reenactment this Christmas.