hand·​sel | \ ˈhan(t)-səl How to pronounce handsel (audio) \

Definition of handsel

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a gift made as a token of good wishes or luck especially at the beginning of a new year
2 : something received first (as in a day of trading) and taken to be a token of good luck
3a : a first installment : earnest money


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

Definition of handsel (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

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

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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 year 1200, English speakers were using the ancestor of handsel for any good luck charm, especially one given at the start of some new situation or condition. By the 1500s, 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 the first use or experience of something, especially when such a use 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

First Known Use of handsel


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for handsel


Middle English hansell

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

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Cite this Entry

“Handsel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/handsel. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

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