For many Americans, Boxing Day is a tradition they’ve heard of, but never truly understood.
Today, Boxing Day is just a day off from work and an opportunity to unwind while watching football (soccer) on television. It almost works out like a Second Christmas Day, as it’s called in the Netherlands, for instance. However, the origins of the holiday are shockingly violent and the tradition was the cause of several deaths in the early days.
The story starts in South Kensington, London in 1897 with a disagreement between next-door neighbors Reginald Higgins and Jonathon Stone. The two men and their families resided in a row of townhouses just off Sloane Road (a major thoroughfare in the relatively new neighborhood). It was a pricey area, mostly inhabited by upper-middle class families. Many of the houses there also served as second homes to the wealthy who still had manor homes in the countryside.
Higgins and Stone were quite similar in many ways. Both were retired junior officers in the British Army with Stone having served in India. Both were married with primary school-aged children, were well-paid and revered in their occupations (Higgins a well-connected architect, Stone a physician), and the two belonged to a well-respected gentleman’s club.
However, while they seemed to get along well with everyone else in their social circles, it was widely known that the two couldn’t stand one another. They had each spread accusations and rumors about one another. Stone had claimed Higgins had been bribing local authorities in exchange for consideration on the design of public buildings. Higgins accusations against Stone were less malicious. He claimed his neighbor had often stolen coal from his outdoor delivery box, didn’t dispose of rubbish properly, and that his unruly children had caused quite a bit of property damage (broken windows, fence slats, etc.) to his home.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back occurred on Christmas Eve 1897.