Washington Crossing Reenactment: What to Expect at the Historic Event

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One of the most recognizable events of the American Revolution is brought to life on the banks of the Delaware River each December. The Washington Crossing reenactment commemorates General George Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey on Christmas Day 1776. Hundreds of reenactors and thousands of spectators gather near New Hope for the annual event that’s full of anticipation and interesting things to see.

Here’s what to know if you’re planning to attend the event this season.

There are two crossings

Reenactors in Revolutionary era dress rowing a wooden boat across the Delaware River
Troops crossing the Delaware River

While the Christmas Day crossing is the most well-known, there are actually two opportunities to see the reenactors make their way across the river.

Each year on a Sunday in mid-December, Washington Crossing Historic Park hosts the first crossing. This event is a rehearsal for the one that happens roughly two weeks later. While the Christmas crossing is free to attend, the first crossing has a small fee. The cost is $8 for adults and $4 for children (ages 5-11), and there is a family rate of $20 that covers admission for two adults and two children.

This year’s first crossing is on December 11, 2022.

The reenactors are committed to authenticity

Pipers playing flutes and Revolutionary troops marching while carrying flags
Pipers and other troops processing toward the river

Hundreds of volunteers from around the Mid-Atlantic and beyond don their Colonial-era best to participate in the crossings and related events. The soldiers, officers, and others adhere to a long list of standards to ensure that their clothes and accessories accurately reflect the time.

Reenactors in Revolutionary War uniforms, including George Washington, marching at the Washington Crossing reenactment
General George Washington (center) and his troops on the move

Beyond the requirements for the crossing, the people who volunteer their time as part of living history events like this tend to be passionate and knowledgeable about the people they portray. Most are happy to chat with visitors about their regiment, the battles, the conditions the troops faced in the winter of 1776, and every detail of their costumes and regalia. Take a minute to talk with them if you are curious.

Concessions are limited

Both events take place during lunchtime hours—11am-3pm for the first crossing, and 12pm-3pm for the Christmas Day reenactment—but options for food and drink are limited.

Baker baking bread in a clay oven outdoors
Baker baking bread in an historic clay oven

On December 11, visitors can enjoy fresh bread made on-site by Half Crown Bakehouse. They use local ingredients that are authentic to the Revolutionary time period, so watching the bread come fresh from the clay oven is both delicious and educational. A selection of drinks is also available.

No food and drinks are available on Christmas Day.  

There are other activities to enjoy

Woman in colonial dress demonstrating a spinning wheel
Spinning wheel demonstration at the first crossing

The first crossing is family-friendly, and there are different activities for visitors of different ages. Seeing all the reenactors engaged in their tasks and preparing for a successful crossing is one of the highlights of the winter season.

Living history participants demonstrate tasks from the Revolutionary era from spinning and weaving to carpentry and more. You may see musicians, volunteers who have set up camps, or the military doctor talking about how he treats the troops.

There may also be a chance to get an up-close look at one of the Durham boats—the type of vessel used by Washington and his troops. The flat-bottom boats are over 40 feet long and weight over two tons, even when empty. The event’s emcee and George Washington make speeches.

At the Christmas Day crossing, visitors can expect to see the troops march along the river and Washington deliver his speech.

The crossing is weather dependent

Person in Colonial dress standing on the bow of a wooden boat next to other "troops" in the boat
Boatmen rowing the hefty Durham boats

The waters of the Delaware River can be quite difficult to navigate, which is one reason the 1776 crossing was remarkable. In fact, the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze—Washington Crossing the Delaware—depicts lots of ice chunks floating by.

Christmas Day can be snowy and treacherous with high waters or 40°, sunny, and calm. As a result, the crossing can’t be guaranteed. But, even if it’s not safe to physically cross the river, reenactors are there to march and meet visitors.

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