Site name and logo

Handsel Monday

Pronounced /ˈhændsəl mʌndeɪ/Help with pronunciation

Handsel Monday is the first Monday in the New Year. It’s an old Scottish festival. Before the nineteenth century the main midwinter celebration — Christmas — was considered by Calvinists to be heathen and Hogmanay hadn’t come into fashion.

In The Eskdale Herd-boy (“a Scottish tale for the instruction and amusement of young persons”) by Martha Blackford, published in 1819, appears: “‘Sir,’ said John, as he walked along, ‘do you think Mr Laurie will give me a holiday on Handsel Monday?’ (the first Monday in the year, and the only holiday the Scottish peasantry ever allow themselves, except, perhaps, in the case of a wedding).”

It was in particular a day for giving presents and that’s where the name comes from. Handsel (or hansel, or even handsell) is a Middle English word for luck or a good omen that comes from Old Norse. It became the name for a gift given on any special occasion, such as taking on a new job or beginning some enterprise, or for earnest money — a down payment or a first instalment.

One particular situation in which the term was used, which many readers have mentioned, was that of putting a coin of small value as a good-luck charm in a handbag or purse given as a present. The superstition or tradition is widespread, but only in Scotland was it commonly called a handsel.

Support this website and keep it available!

There are no adverts on this site. I rely on the kindness of visitors to pay the running costs. Donate via PayPal by selecting your currency from the list and clicking Donate. Specify the amount you wish to give on the PayPal site.

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 07 Jan 2006