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, 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 !