As darkness fell over the Delaware Valley on Christmas Eve 1776, the American Revolution was all but lost. The ragtag and rapidly dwindling Continental Army had escaped from New York by a hair’s breadth a few weeks earlier, and been chased down the length of New Jersey by a superior force, finally fleeing across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. It was endgame: the enlistments of most of the remaining men under George Washington’s command would be up at year’s end, and they were surely going home.

And then a miracle happened. On Christmas night, in a howling nor’easter, Washington led his men back across the river and attacked the Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. They held off a counterattack by Lord Cornwallis’ best troops, and then struck again, defeating a brigade at Princeton. The British strategy was shattered, and Washington’s army -- which by then was the Revolution -- triumphed, to fight again and again.

This utterly astonishing turnabout is the climax of the larger story brilliantly and even elegantly reported in David Hackett Fischer’s book Washington’s Crossing, certainly one of the must-read histories of our country’s seemingly providential birth of independence. (You may remember my enthusiasm some months ago in this space for Professor Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride, his other great gem concerning the revolutionary era.) Treat yourself to it by the fire over the holidays; it’ll be good for your American soul.

But whether or not you’re personally able to get to the book, don’t fail during the coming holidays to treat your family to the marvelous A&E film The Crossing, featuring Jeff Daniels as a stolid but by no means humorless Washington. It is at once a serious film -- striving and mostly succeeding in its quest for historical accuracy -- and also spellbinding entertainment. And it may be the only real exposure your children (or grandchildren) will ever get to the real story -- and to what it still means to us as Americans. It’s an experience to be shared with, and savored by, the whole family.

Most people seem to think It’s a Wonderful Life is the great American Christmas movie. I demur. It’s The Crossing, hands down. See if you and yours don’t agree.

©2014 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Nick reviews current books, articles and research findings in the “Resources” feature of his monthly newsletter, Nick Murray Interactive. To download the current sample issue, visit and click on “Newsletter.”