For two of the last three years, heavy rains and flood conditions have prevented history buffs from their annual reenactment of Gen. George Washington’s Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River — a Revolutionary War turning point and regional point of pride.
This year, following a Christmas Eve torrent, they would have run up against the same fate. The 2020 edition was saved by, of all things, the pandemic.
That’s because the reenactment this year was virtual. It was prerecorded on a calm day in December to avoid crowds that might spread the coronavirus. Participants — 70 instead of the usual 250 — wore gloves, used period scarves for face coverings and were grouped in small cohorts for their protection.
“We typically get about 6,000 people the day of the crossing, sometimes even more. We wanted to make it as comfortable and safe as possible,” said Jennifer Martin, executive director of Friends of Washington Crossing Park, a group that works with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to provide historical education at the Bucks County site.
Martin said that even with the flexibility of a prerecorded event, it still took two tries to find a date when the waters were navigable — and then, they were able to cross just once, instead of three times as planned for extra footage. But the finished video gives viewers an unprecedented view of the entire event, from Washington’s speech to the hardworking rowers paddling their way into history.
“It was so important for us to do this this year, even with everything going on,” Martin said.
The first crossing in 1776 was part of Washington’s bold plan to attack Hessian mercenary outposts in Trenton. Despite a nor’easter that brought icy conditions, 2,400 troops, 200 horses and 18 cannons made the crossing successfully, and marched into battle.
“The Christmas crossing is so important,” Martin said. “It’s the beginning of 10 days of victory for Washington and it’s the time when Washington convinces the men to reenlist. It’s really the turning point in the American revolution and the reason we experience so many freedoms we do today.”