Saturday, 29 November 2008

Handsel Mondays

Handsel Monday:

The first Monday in the New Year.

This is 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 subscribers 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.


I have to clear up a few things now. Number one is that I havn't christened my new shiney blog Handsel Mondays after the Scottish meaning. I certainly don't want to offend any Scots, it's just that I'm very interested in Old Norse and Old English, archiac language in general really, so the meaning I prefer from worldwidewords is the explanation in the second paragraph.
I may just point out here (I should say will and not may really) that Andrew Murray has made a negative impression upon me regarding Scots. He openly didn't support England during the 2006 FIFA World Cup and this greatly annoyed me at the time and has stayed with me. However, I do know that he is just one Scot and does not (hopefully) represent all Scots, so this angst is directed more towards Murray than Scotland, although the two are inextricably linked. I have also always wanted to visit the beautiful Scottish scenery so disregarding the Scottish derivation of Handsel Mondays is certainly not aimed against Scots. Phew, glad I got that out the way!

The Middle English meaning is quite appropriate for this ol' blog venture. I certainly hope it will bring me good luck and prove to be a very good omen for my creative outlet. In addition, as Christmas is only a few weeks away the present-giving aspect on a Handsel Monday seems to be very appropriate for this festive time of year! Happy Handsels!!

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