Monday, January 5, 2015

Auld Handsel Monday

In Scotland, the first Monday of the year or the Monday after Jan. 12th was a day for: presents (handsels); a breakfast of "roast and boiled, with ale, whiskey, and cake" for the farm hands and servants; visiting neighbors; Moving Day and even a day for hiring new workers.

"Roast and boiled" for a "liberal breakfast" - whatz that? By 1796 it was a common enough phrase to be used as a nick name for the life guards soldiers "...who are mostly substantial housekeepers and eat daily of roast and boiled." [Grose, Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue]  Charles Dickens used the term several times, even once in A Christmas Carol in the 1840s, when Scrooge was watching his past.  “…more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled…”

It appears to be one of the courses or a small meal of roasted meat and a boiled one or more... served hot or cold.  Sala gave details on American meals in 1861 saying  “The soups first, then the fish, then the entremets, then the roast and boiled, and lastly the pastry and dessert…" Later Sala wrote of casual meals he enjoyed: "...let me take my modest cut of roast and boiled, my "one o' taters," my "cheese and sallary," at an eatinghouse in Bucklersbury."

So back to Scotland and Auld Handsel...auld is 'old' like Auld Lang Syne in Robert Burns poem, sung at New Years --

"Handsel Monday. The first Monday in the year. This is a great holiday among the peasantry and the children generally in Scotland, being especially devoted to the giving and receiving of presents, or, in the Scotch vocabulary, handsels. The young visit their seniors in expectation of some remembrance, and postmen, scavengers, and newspaper carriers look for the equivalent of what in England are known as Christmas boxes. 

In the remoter rural regions Auld Handsel Monday—i.e., Handsel Monday, Old Style, or the first Monday after the 12th of January—is the day usually held. On this occasion it was the ancient custom for farmers to treat all their servants to a liberal breakfast of roast and boiled, with ale, whiskey, and cake, after which the guests spent the day in visiting among their friends. It was also moving day in old Scotland, and the date when new engagements were entered into with servants and farm-hands."
Walsh, William S.  Curiosities of Popular Customs.  Phila and London: 1897

An interesting account in the Two Nerdy History Ladies blog about Moving Day on May Day in New York City HERE

picture is from Hendry, Hamish.  Holidays & Happy-Days.  London: 1901 

©2015 Patricia Bixler Reber
Researching Food History HOME

No comments:

Post a Comment