Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A gift to express good wishes at the beginning of a new year or enterprise.
  • n. The first money or barter taken in, as by a new business or on the opening day of business, especially when considered a token of good luck.
  • n. A first payment.
  • n. A specimen or foretaste of what is to come.
  • transitive v. To give a handsel to.
  • transitive v. To launch with a ceremonial gesture or gift.
  • transitive v. To do or use for the first time.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A lucky omen.
  • n. A gift given at New Year, or at the start of some enterprise or new situation, meant to ensure good luck.
  • n. The first installment, or first payment of money in a day or series.
  • v. To give a handsel to.
  • v. To inaugurate by means of some ceremony; to break in.
  • v. To use or do for the first time, especially so as to make fortunate or unfortunate; to try experimentally.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A sale, gift, or delivery into the hand of another; especially, a sale, gift, delivery, or using which is the first of a series, and regarded as an omen for the rest; a first installment; an earnest; as the first money received for the sale of goods in the morning, the first money taken at a shop newly opened, the first present sent to a young woman on her wedding day, etc.
  • n. Price; payment.
  • transitive v. To give a handsel to.
  • transitive v. To use or do for the first time, esp. so as to make fortunate or unfortunate; to try experimentally.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A gift or token of good fortune or good will; especially, a New-Year's gift; an earnest or earnest-penny; a sale, gift, or delivery which is regarded as the first of a series; the first money taken in the morning in the way of trade; the first earnings of any one in a new employment or place of business; the first money taken in a shop newly opened; the first present sent to a young woman on her wedding-day, etc.
  • Used or employed for the first time; newly acquired or inherited.
  • To give handsel to; use or do for the first time; try as for luck.

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Middle English hanselle, from Old English handselen, a handing over (hand, hand + selen, gift) and from Old Norse handsal, legal transfer (hand, hand + sal, a giving).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English handselen, or Old Norse handsal. See sell, sale.

Examples

  • What a handsel is this dead hound, after I had rejoiced in its weight266!

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night

  • He would instantly give him a 'handsel' of harrying to stay his proud stomach.

    Border Ghost Stories

  • “But these gentlemen,” said Trois Eschelles, looking towards the chimney, “do not these help, and so take a handsel of our vocation?”

    Quentin Durward

  • “Nakat,” with the double meaning of to spot and to handsel especially dancing and singing women; and, as Mr. Payne notes in this acceptation it is practically equivalent to the

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night

  • This they did with entire diligence and he bade them also handsel all who were present with large gifts and dismiss them each to his country with honour and renown; he also charged his governors to rule the people with justice and enjoined them to be tender to the poor as well as to the rich and bade succour them from the treasury, according to their several degrees.

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night

  • Then pulling out a brass token, resembling a dinar, she said to the maid, who was a simpleton, “Take this ducat and go in to thy mistress and say to her, ‘Umm al-Khayr rejoiceth with thee and is beholden to thee for thy favours, and on the day of assembly she and her daughters will visit thee and handsel the tiring-women with the usual gifts.’”

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night

  • An he came in quest of aught, we will aid him, and if he have a blood-feud with one of the Kings, we will ride with him; or, if he desire a gift, we will handsel him; for this is indeed a numerous host and a power uttermost, and we fear for our land from its mischief.

    The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night

  • She was wild with joy at the thought that she and Lucien would handsel this gift together; she would drive with him in the new carriage; and in her happiness, she seemed to love Camusot, she lavished caresses upon him.

    A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

  • For she caused to be constructed a very large chamber under ground, and making as though she would handsel it but in her mind devising other things, she invited those of the Egyptians whom she knew to have had most part in the murder, and gave a great banquet.

    The History of Herodotus

  • And, as I trow, said Sir Sagramore, ye shall have the same handsel that he had.

    Le Morte d'Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory's book of King Arthur and of his noble knights of the Round table

Comments

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  • Hah!

    January 1, 2014

  • As each pot blackens its kettle

    So to be fine invokes one’s fettle.

    Why should the year begin

    By splitting a twin,

    For what is a handsel without its Gretel?

    January 1, 2014

  • Yorkshire dialect word for the money paid to bind a contract or to seal a bargain. From Old Norse hand-sal - "pledge", "bargain".

    June 27, 2009

  • "According to custom in the British Isles, Handsel Monday is a day to give a small gift or good luck charm to children or to those who have served you well: 'Every penny of every handsel received by children in the village was in the sweet shop till by the end of the day.' The gift is called a handsel and is

    intended to symbolize the first in a long line of gifts or good luck throughout the year."

    - Dr Goodword, 1 Jan 2008.

    Handsel Monday is therefore the first Monday of the New Year, particularly in the British Isles.

    January 1, 2008