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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Fergusson's Daft Days

The Daft Days is a marvellous poem by Robert Fergusson which celebrates that period in the year running from Christmas (25 December), through New Year, and into the first Monday of the year, known as Handsel Monday. After the Reformation of 1560, the old feast of Christmas was generally discouraged by the church, but the period running up to New Year’s Eve, and its aftermath, was always celebrated as a holiday period in Scotland. The first Monday of the year was called Handsel Monday because it was the custom on that day for Scots to exchange a handsel, or gift, as a good luck token. The word handsel derives from Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon and means to ‘give into the hand’.

This whole period is known in Scots as the ‘daft days’ because it is given over to celebration, merriment and excess, with many people having licence to act in frivolous or daft (mad) ways. It is still the primary period of national celebration in Scotland, with stage-managed events in Edinburgh on Hogmanay (‘New Year’s Eve’) – a word believed to derive from Old French ‘aguillanneuf’ (and in Northern French ‘hoguinane’) meaning a seasonal gift.

In the daft Days Fergusson describes the darkening, bleak weather, the stillness of the wildlife, and the shelter that Edinburgh offers. In the city people can take their fill of food and drink while enjoying conversation, dance and music. But he warns the reader not to drink too much aqua vitae (whisky) or else fall prey to the notorious city guard, whom he also mentions in the poem Hallow Fair.

 

For the full text of the Daft Days please download the PDF file below which also contains guidance notes.