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hand·​sel ˈhan(t)-səl How to pronounce handsel (audio)
: a gift made as a token of good wishes or luck especially at the beginning of a new year
: something received first (as in a day of trading) and taken to be a token of good luck
: a first installment : earnest money


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handseled or handselled; handseling or handselling ˈhan(t)-s(ə-)liŋ How to pronounce handsel (audio)

transitive verb

: to give a handsel to
: to inaugurate with a token or gesture of luck or pleasure
: to use or do for the first time

Did you know?

According to an old custom in the British Isles, the first Monday of the New Year is Handsel Monday, a day to give a small gift or good luck charm to children or to those who have served you well. As long ago as the 13th century, English speakers were using the ancestor of handsel in the context of omens and luck, eventually leading to the meaning of a good luck charm given to one at the start of some new situation or condition. By the 18th century, traders were using handsel for the first cash they earned in the morning—to them, an omen of good things to follow. Nowadays, it can also be used for something that gives a taste of things to come.

Examples of handsel in a Sentence

Noun gave little handsels to their houseguests on New Year's Day

Word History



Middle English hansell

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of handsel was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near handsel

Cite this Entry

“Handsel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/handsel. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

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