Serendipity is on my side. I investigated a word my mother uses – hansel – and discovered the term has a direct link to today. The term cropped up in a book I read recently “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke. It formed part of a summoning spell and the handsel was a gift to bind the person who was summoned.
Every time my mother (of Scottish descent, way back) gave me a new purse, bag, or wallet she always insisted on placing a coin in it before formally giving it to me. I loved the idea. Who dislikes the idea of a present that comes with free cash? I do it myself with my own children. But over time I noticed that we were the only family honouring this tradition.
Wikipedia informs me that handseling a purse is a British tradition to ensure good monetary luck for the receiver. The word handsel is found from 1050. It comes from a Saxon root (also used in Danish) and means “to deliver into the hand”, which makes sense.
I also found that Handsel Day (c. 1825) was the day when tips and small gifts were expected by servants, postmen, etc. Money is the most common handsel gift on the day, but if giving an object make sure it’s not sharp or it will cut the relationship, apparently. Handsel Day was supplanted by British Boxing Day traditions over time. Here in Ireland we much prefer St. Stephen’s Day for the 26th of December (there’s much tutting if you use the other term) and those who tip service providers do so in the run up to Christmas, not on the 26th.
Thanks to a dispute in Scotland about the Julian vs. Gregorian calendars you may celebrate Handsel Day on the first Monday in January or Auld Handsel Day on the first Monday after the 12th, and yes, that would be today.
I think we should revive Handsel day (on whichever date suits) as a way of brightening up January and easing the post-Christmas-financial-blues. What do you think? Does your family follow any rare or unusual traditions?
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,