This was a rural Scottish tradition which was popular until the late 19th century and took place on the first Monday of the New Year. Handsel is a Saxon word meaning "deliver into the hand" and in this tradition it translated as a small gift monetary or otherwise given by an Employer to his servants or an adult giving a penny to any child he encountered in the morning.
There were various ideas regarding appropriate gifts. Nothing sharp could be given otherwise the relationship between the giver and recipient would be severed nor was an empty purse deemed acceptable. If the purse had a small amount of money in it the belief was that it would bring good luck money wise for the coming year.
Some Employers went far further than gifts for their charges. They laid on a sumptuous breakfast with oatcakes, cold beef, shortbread and many other treats and people enjoyed their day of leisure by playing sports and games. In one participants shot at a target painted low on a barn door and the winner received a small prize known as wads and another called Blind Barrow in which blindfolded competitors pushed a wheelbarrow towards a post and whoever got the closest won.
Sounds like a merry jape!
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