For thousands, Christmas week in the Delaware River Towns means reconnecting with the region’s deep history. More specifically, the events that comprised the Ten Crucial Days, which unfolded between December 25, 1776 and January 3, 1777.
During that stretch, General George Washington and his beleaguered troops won a series of critical battles, their first of the Revolutionary War, and temporarily turned the tide in their favor. The shift in momentum was made even more dramatic by the fact that the patriot troops – and any notion of a United States of America – appeared to be on their final legs right up until that point.
The reenactments that will play out throughout Christmas week begin with the massive Christmas-Day reenactment at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Washington Crossing, PA.
It’s worth your time to become better acquainted with Washington’s legendary river-crossing under the cover of darkness on Christmas night, 1776. Regardless of whatever you remember reading in a seventh-grade textbook, that night, we became a nation.
Today, the moment’s remembered by hundreds of reenactors who don meticulously authentic uniforms and climb aboard replica boats to paddle across the river to Jersey in broad daylight. The crossing part’s dependent on how the river’s running that day. If it’s too high or low, it’s nixed. But the rest of the reenactment will go on as planned, either way.
About 5,000 people turned out to watch the rehearsal on Dec. 12, for which there was an admission fee. The Christmas-Day reenactment is free. With good weather, the audience is likely to be at least as large. So, plan to get there well before the 1 PM start. Or, if you don’t mind missing out on the speeches and much of the staging, grab a seat on the Jersey side.
A more inclusive telling
After Christmas, the action moves downriver to the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, NJ, for what’s known as Patriots Week. Basically, it’s six days of demonstrations and presentations that each describe an aspect of Trenton’s place in the Revolutionary War.
Sound a little dry? Think again. A lot of these presentations, which will be a mix of in-person and virtual, describe sides of the war that never found their way into your seventh-grade textbook. For example, students from the Sprout U School of the Arts will stage an “experiential interpretation” of life during the American Revolution from the perspectives of a cross-section of Black people who lived through it. That will happen Dec. 27, 3 PM, at the Trenton Free Public Library.
New this year is the Assunpink Fire Walk. At sunset on Dec. 26, reenactors will light 13 torches along the south bank of the Assunpink Creek, which featured prominently in the Battle of Trenton. After that, there will be a dramatic reading of excerpts from Thomas Paine’s book, The American Crisis. Throughout the war, Paine was a vocal advocate for independence. Washington reportedly was so inspired by the book’s first essay, he ordered it to be read aloud to the troops at Valley Forge.