Monday, 5 January 2015

Happy Handsel Monday!

An Irish Penny
Handsel Monday was a tradition celebrated in our house, when I was young. The custom is seldom practiced in Ireland today, but was still widely celebrated up to the mid-twentieth century. When my mother was a child in Dublin city, she remembers receiving a three penny bit from her Aunt Kate on the first Monday of each year and when we were children, Mam gave each of us a coin on this day. It was a token of good luck, to ensure our prosperity for the New Year.   At least, she said, if we held onto our penny, we would never be penniless.

The tradition, or at least a version of it, was also practiced in Malahide, Co. Dublin, in my Dad's extended family. Christopher Mahon, from the Swords Road, was my third cousin once removed. In September 1938, when he was thirteen years old, Chris participated in a scheme initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission, aiming to capture and preserve the folklore of the Irish Free State, and wrote an essay entitled 'Certain Days'. 'The Schools' Collection', as it is now known, has thousands of such essays, written by school children across Ireland.  Chris wrote: 

‘The first Monday after Christmas is considered very lucky. It is called Hansel Monday. If people transact any business on that day and receive silver in return it is said they are never short afterwards’. 

Apparently, it is an ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition and not a Celtic tradition, as might be imaged. The word ‘handsel’ may have roots in the old English ‘handselen’, meaning ‘delivery into the hand’ and the custom possibly crossed the Irish Sea with Scottish settlers.  As the tradition was passed down in my maternal lineage, it might suggest a Scottish, or maybe Northern English, influence. Something to bear in mind as I search for their ancestors.

Please accept this gift of a virtual penny today, to ensure your prosperity for the rest of 2015!


  1. Dara, that's a delightful tradition. It reminds me that whenever my Mom or my Nana gave me a new purse or wallet they put a penny in it or I'd always have money. They are my link to my Irish heritage. I wonder if they were thinking of Handsel Monday. hmmm...

  2. I think you're right, Colleen, I've heard such pennies being called 'Handsel money' too.

  3. Hello Dara, this is the first time I’ve heard of Handsel Monday but my family also carry on the tradition of putting a penny (a pound now-a-days) in purses and handbags given as gifts. I’ve always believed bad luck would follow if the tradition wasn’t observed, so it’s interesting to look at it from another point of view.
    I’m delighted to accept your gift of a virtual penny and of course send one back to you. Happy New Year! Barbara


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