Hansel Monday used to be celebrated in Scotland, northern England, and parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In Scottish Gaelic the day is known as Diluain Traoighte (drained Monday). Hansel Monday, or Auld Hansel Monday, was traditionally celebrated on the first Monday after January 12th. However, in more recent years, those who still celebrate Hansel Monday do so on the first Monday of the year (So in 2018, Hansel Monday will actually be on the more typical 1st January). This moveable date for Hansel Day is due to an old dispute in Scotland; the Scottish population was against swapping the Julian for the Gregorian calendar in the Eighteenth century.
The word Hansel originates from Old Saxon (c.1050), and means to deliver into the hand. A glossary from 1825 tells us that Hansel Monday was an occasion “when it is customary to make children and servants a present… On this day, tips of small gifts were expected by servants, as well as by the postman, the deliverers of newspapers, scavengers, and all persons who wait upon the house.” This was as opposed to similar tradition in England, when such tips and gifts were habitually given to household staff and servants on Boxing Day instead.
If a gift on Hansel Monday was to be an item rather than money, then tradition dictates that the object could not be sharp, or it would “cut” the relationship between the giver and the recipient. This would be considered extremely bad luck for the year ahead. Another Hansel tradition concerns the giving of new purses, bags, or wallets. Whenever such a gift is given, a coin should always be placed in it first. This Hanseling of a purse is said to ensure good monetary luck for the receiver of the gift. Many people, often unaware of the existence of Hansel Monday, still carry on this tradition today.
A hansel would therefore be a gift to mark (and bless) the beginning of a relationship (usually a working relationship) at the start of each New Year. By handing over such a gift, the giver set up a bound of respect between master or mistress and their staff, as well as avoiding a spell of bad luck.
So, although many of us may not have heard about Hansel Monday, there are a number of things about it which have influenced our better known festive celebrations!
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.