Hogmanay and Handsel Monday Two Time Honoured Crieff Festivals

Alexander Porteous  wrote the “ The History of Crieff “ which was published in 1912 and to this  day is  recognised  as the definitive  account  of the towns illustrious and historic  past . The following  account reflects clearly  how traditions  can quite  easily  be  forgotten as the  social pattern change  with the passing years  . We look at two  festivals  which occurred  close  to one another at  the start of the new year . Handsel Monday , alas  is  gone but the other Hogmanay has  gone  from strength to strength both locally  here in the Strath , in Scotland and indeed the World !

“Two time honoured  institutions – or perhaps  they may more suitably  be  called festivals  - for long celebrated in Crieff , as  elsewhere , were “ Hogmanay “ the last evening of the year , and “ Handsel Monday “ , the first Monday of the New Year ( old style ) . The  celebration of these still lingers , more from a legendary point of view , amongst the youngsters of Crieff ; but well on into the sixties of the last  century , adults were the principal partakers .Soon after darkness fell on New Year’s Eve , bands of guisers  commenced their rounds . The disguised adopted  were many and various ; and the faces  were  invariably  blackened , it  being considered   a most important matter that no recognition  be possible . One of the party was usually provided with an accordion or concertina with which he accompanied songs rendered by his comrades . An al fresco entertainment was given at each house they visited – which houses needless to say , were carefully chosen from the point of view of appreciation of their efforts . A monetary recompense  was looked  for , which was often given , but as often as withheld . A refusal , however , did not daunt the spirits of the guisers , as amusement and fun , beyond all else  , was the object in view .


Handsel Monday , was more generally observed than Hogmanay , and the echo of the last  stroke of midnight had  barely died away ere the streets became enlivened  with crowds of youths . The most ardent of these were also the most mischievous, and they seemed  to consider that the season of the year warranted every excess and licence . The attention of the revellers  were mainly directed  to those  against whom any of them had a grievance , which had been carefully nourished  during the year . In many instances the vents would be blocked by turf , while in others a penny whistle would be vigorously blown through the key- hole . These were the joys of youth ; while the elders would indulge in first footing , with the result that many were seen wending their devious way homewards  in the early dawn in a more  or less hilarious  state of  inebriety . As the century wore on , New Year’s Day itself  began to take  the place of Handsel Monday , and the celebrations of the latter  is now practically obsolete .  “

Handsel Monday was celebrated throughout Scotland and indeed also parts of Northern England.  Among the rural population of Scotland, Auld Hansel Monday, was traditionally celebrated on the first Monday after January 12. This custom reflected a reluctance to switch from the Old (Julian) style calendar to the New (Gregorian) calendar.[ January 1 is the earliest day on which Handsel Monday can fall.
An 1825 glossary marks Handsel Monday as an occasion "when it is customary to make children and servants a present". On this day, tips of small gifts were expected by servants,[6] as well as by the postman, the deliverers of newspapers, scavengers, and all persons who wait upon the house.
In this respect it is somewhat similar to Boxing Day, which eventually supplanted it. If the handsel was a physical object rather than money, tradition said that the object could not be sharp, or it would "cut" the relationship between the giver and the recipient. The day is known in Scottish Gaelic as Diluain Traoighte (Drained Monday).

The custom was also known as “Handseling a purse”. A new purse would not be given to anyone, without placing money in it for good luck. Money received during Handsel Monday is supposed to insure monetary luck all for the rest of the year. It is worth mentioning that one William Hunter, a farm worker was cured in the year 1738 of an inveterate rheumatism or gout, by drinking freely of new ale, full of harm or yeast. The poor man had been confined to his bed. for a year and a half, having almost entirely lost the use of his limbs. On the evening of Handsel Monday, as it is called, some of his neighbours came to make merry with him. Though he could not rise, yet he always took his share of the ale, as it passed round the company, and in the end he became much intoxicated. The consequence was that he had the use of his limbs next morning, and was able to walk about. He lived more than twenty years after this, and never had the smallest return of his old complaint .

The association of music and the celebrations of New Year and Handsel Monday perhaps gave rise  to the formation of an instrumental band in the town in  1825 . At first it was composed of about twenty performers , and they were instructed by an old regimental  band master . It seems to have got on fairly well for a few years  but fell into bad habits . A letter from one William Campbell in Crieff to Donald McOmish in 1831 , states :  “ I am sorry to inform you that the music band is all going to wreck with drunkenness . There is not a time when taken out to anything but what there are some of them sqwaling and fighting , for which cause I have a year or more ago dropt going near them , although I love the music as much as ever . Their way I detest , and every respectful person in Crieff despises their ways of doing . “

They seem, however , to have pulled themselves up  again as we  are told that during the stirring period of the 1832 Scottish Reform Act when democracy started  to take  root , they often paraded  with exited crowds around them  and they  were engaged  to perform at  various functions  throughout the country including the  laying of the foundation stone of the new Stirling Bridge .
Although Handsel Monday is now lost in the dim recesses of history , New Year and Hogmanay lives on with the  recently revived  celebrations taking  place in James Square in the centre of town .This year ( 2014/2015   ) Crieff's Number One Classic Rock Band, Reddog will help  to bring  in New Year 2015 in style in James Square – great  that some of our  older traditions still survive !


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