WASHINGTON CROSSING - The sky was clear on Christmas, but once again strong winds and a fast current stopped George Washington from crossing the Delaware River by boat.

Ronald Rinaldi II, who also played the general last year, instead marched from Pennsylvania to New Jersey via bridge during the 56th annual reenactment of the 1776 Christmas-night crossing.

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"We're not going to put anyone in a position to get hurt," said Hilary Krueger, director of Washington Crossing Historic Park.

For Rinaldi, playing Washington was the role of a lifetime. It was also a family affair - his father, Ronald Sr., and his 11-year-old son, Ronald III, joined him on the march.

"I would have loved to have crossed," he said, "but it was still fun. It wouldn't be Christmas without going to the crossing."

Rinaldi, 46, of Branchburg, was chosen by a panel of three to portray the general for two years.

An avid history buff - he's amassed more than 500 books on the American Revolution and has a degree in U.S. military strategy from Duke University - Rinaldi has taken part in every reenactment of Washington's crossing of the Delaware since he was 14.

In real life, he's a county crime-scene investigator. But yesterday, he rallied his fellow 130 reenactors and put on a show for the estimated 12,000 spectators.

"Fight men! Fight for all that you are worth, for all you cherish and love," he urged.

Paul Vando of Yardley brought sons Miles, 10, and Luke, 7, to watch history repeated.

"I really wanted to start a tradition that the kids can look forward to every year," he said.

On Wednesday, President-elect Barack Obama also asked the country to look to Washington's improbable crossing of the Delaware River on Dec. 25, 1776, as inspiration to get through current tough times.

He said in a holiday message that Washington and his army faced impossible odds as they fought against the British on that Christmas, when they surprised Hessian forces at Trenton and won victories that gave new momentum and hope to American independence.