Christmas 1776

As Christmas Eve approaches, it’s good to count our blessings and pause to recognize the sacrifices made on behalf of our freedoms.

In 1776, just six months after signing the Declaration of Independence, the united American colonies were on the verge of military defeat. In November, Gen. George Washington’s citizen soldiers were defeated on Long Island and forced to retreat. By December, the Americans managed to retreat safely across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania, but this Christmas would not bring peace and tranquility.

So begins Lynn Cheney’s excellent new children’s book, When Washington Crossed the Delaware.

Lynn Cheney’s book is the perfect children’s story about our nation’s founding, the spirit and sacrifices of 1776, and our country’s first Christmas. Indeed, all 15 Kemp grandchildren will have seen this book beautifully illustrated by Peter Fiore.

Christmas is the holiday of hope and gratitude – hope in the spirit of mankind; hope that old grudges and seemingly intractable disputes will give way to reconciliation and peace; and gratitude to God for blessings and redemption.

During the Christmas of 1776, hope, or what little of it that may have remained from those heady days in Philadelphia, was all but lost. Washington’s army, if it could be called an army, was badly equipped – many of the soldiers were without shoes. Needless to say, morale was low and expectations of victory even lower.

It was then that Washington summoned his generals and devised a plan to launch a surprise assault on the Hessian soldiers – German mercenaries – who lied in wait at Trenton, N.J., just across the Delaware River. Here the plan was drawn up, “Christmas day at night … is the time fixed upon for our attempt on Trenton,” said Washington.

Meanwhile, Thomas Paine proved once again that the pen can be as mighty as the sword as he inspired the soldiers, writing: “These are the times that try men’s souls … The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

On Christmas night, 1776, Washington’s army of 2,400 men stealthily crossed the partially frozen Delaware River. The crossing had taken longer than planned, and, as a result, the attack would not occur under the cover of night. Nonetheless, it would soon be revealed that the Americans had achieved total surprise. Just two hours after it began, the Battle of Trenton was complete – the Americans won a smashing victory, capturing more than 900 Hessian prisoners of war.

A Hessian officer stationed in New York at the time, wrote, “Thus the times had changed! The Americans had constantly run before us. Four weeks ago we expected to end the war with the capture of Philadelphia, and now we have to render Washington the honor of thinking about our defense. Due to this affair at Trenton, such a fright came over the army that if Washington had used the opportunity we would have flown to our ships and let him have all of America. Since we had thus far underestimated our enemy, from this unhappy day onward we saw everything through a magnifying glass.” The men who fought and won the Battle of Trenton changed the course of history.

Lynn Cheney ends the book with the following words, “Gen. Washington and his men had stood with their country in a time of crisis. When they were cold and hungry, they did not quit. When the conflict was hard, they fought on. And when they won, the victory was sweet. News of Trenton and Princeton spread across the land, lifting the spirits of patriots everywhere. Many a battle lay ahead, but now Americans could think of winning the War of Independence. Now they could imagine that their great struggle would have a glorious end.”

Washington and his army restored hope that America would be free – this was America’s first Christmas and it is, as Lynn Cheney shows, a timeless lesson in hope, sacrifice and the spirit of Christmas.