Has Your Nose Been Buttered?

Staged butter nose. For illustrative purposes only.
Staged butter nose. For illustrative purposes only.
This week my mama got a little sneaky. My birthday was Friday, and since she lives some 250 miles away, she called my partner Ryan to task him with a family tradition.

Growing up, my nose was coated in butter within an hour of waking up on October 26. Mama got me while I was still groggy and stumbling around our apartment with sleep in my eyes. She’d sneak up behind me with a generous dab of butter–usually Kroger’s Cost Cutter brand. It would be balanced on her index finger, threatening to slide off and drop to the floor. She’d hug me from behind, and while she had me in her grip, she’d reach for my nose and smear me good.

As a kid, I thought it was funny. As a teen, I worried that the grease would cause a break out. These days, I’d pay good money to have Mama here, spreading a dollop of butter across my face. It was a sweet custom, but with family living far off, it’s one that I never expect to be upheld.

Now, Ryan was great on my birthday. He bought me a vanilla/vanilla cake, which is a favorite; he gave me a card addressed from him and our dog; and he told me that we could go wherever I wanted for dinner. I opted for chinese delivery so I could eat in my PJs with my pup at my feet. The day came and went without a molecule of butter touching my nose, but I didn’t know the difference.

I went to bed thinking that my birthday was a hit, and got up Saturday to run errands. That’s when mama called. I was biking around town, and pulled over. I’d barely said hello before she asked, ”Now, did Ryan give you something special?”

I told her about the dinner and described the front of the card–a pug wearing a birthday hat. She mmm-hmmed and awwwwed and waited, clearly expecting more. Since there was nothing left to tell, I started to change the subject, to ask about her cats, but she stopped me cold.

“Woah. Now wait. Is that all?”

Thinking she was about to come down on my partner’s gift giving skills, I went on the defense. “That was plenty, Mama,” I said, “The cake was really good and…”

“Well, that little turd!”

She interrupted me, and that’s all it took. Maybe it was her tone, but I knew, right then, that this wasn’t about what Ryan gave me. It was about something he forgot to give me.

I hustled home, biked like the wind to get to him first. I found Ryan petting the dog, oblivious to the storm that was brewing a state away. I touched his shoulder and, in all seriousness, advised him to change his telephone number. “That woman’s ready to skin you over the cellular lines,” I told him, adding, “And I know her. She’ll find a way to do it.”

Poor thing. He didn’t know whether to pee or go blind. He’s from Illinois. He had no way of knowing that he’d interfered with a tradition that extends back to my childhood and God knows how much further. If miscellaneous websites are to be believed, birthday nose buttering originated in Scotland. The grease made unlucky forces slide right past, insuring a good year. Today, it’s popular in a number of places settled by that nation’s fiery people, including the Appalachians, Newfoundland, and other parts of the eastern Canada.

So Ryan stepped in it good. Mamas on the war path, and now we’re searching for a safe house where he can hide. If you’ve got one, please let me know. Also, if you come from a family of nose butterers, by all means, leave a comment here.

Are you keeping the tradition alive? And if so, could you swing by my place next October 26?

Assuming Mama hasn’t killed him, Ryan’s gonna need a tutorial.

14 Comments

  • little brother mike

    ooooo lordy ryan u just dont know what u have done or should i say not done u should run for the hills seeing how mom cant clime them any more …………………

  • Uncle

    It’s a good thing your mama wasn’t up to driving up there! She would have buttered you good and scolded Ryan! ;)

  • Leanne

    I liked this post. We used to do that in my Dad’s family but I never knew the reasons why and I don’t think anyone else did either. Nice to see we were not crazy after all. Good memories. I should start doing that to my kids.

  • Roberta in Kentucky

    This story made me laugh…I’ve never heard of nose buttering! However, when I was growing up in the hills and hollers of Eastern Kentucky. whenever the children at our house had a birthday…we were grabbed and rolled under the bed. Anyone else out there ever hear of this tradition?

  • marklynn

    Roberta, I’ve never heard of this tradition, but I love it. Makes me wish we didn’t have a platform bed here!

  • Sandra ferguson

    We’ll now! Just read the “Nose Buttering” story and interesting enough, it’s all very true and not fabricated. You readers will be glad to know that Ryan is alive and well! You see, I am Marks MAma. “Hello everyone, glad to meet you all”. I did not hurt a hair on Ryan’s head, I promise. The birthday nose buttering has been around all my life (I am nearly 66 years of age–refuse to say old) and can’t remember a b-day without someone sneaking up and getting me good. My mother told me that her mama even did that to she and her four sisters growing up. All we were ever told was that it was foe good luck and done with love. Sounds like a good enough reason to me to continue with our beloved southern tradition. Happy Birthday everybody and watch out for the butter! Mama Fergie

  • Cierra

    When I was growing up my parents did it to all of us, putting butter on our nose AND putting us under the bed. All of us hated it so much and swore that we would never do that to our children. You get a good laugh but what do the children get out of it. I can tell you, absolutely nothing.

  • Leaona

    How funny! I walked into work this morning and said “This is the day after my birthday and I don’t have to wear butter on my nose!” My co-worker said “what are you talking about?” I said, “When I was a little girl my momma always put butter on our nose the day after our birthdays”. She asked why. I told her I didn’t know so she said I should Google it!! I did and was surprised to find all the different comments on it. I really thought it was my mom’s silliness! I found one article that said it was a Scottish tradition and she is of Scottish decent so perhaps it was carried down!! I know most articles said it was on the Day Of the birthday, but mom always did it the day after. I did it to my kids just because it was how I grew up!! Now, I can tell them it wasn’t just Grandma’s silliness!!! Thanks for posting!

  • Mary Barringer

    I have never had my nose buttered, but in answer to Roberta in Kentucky, I have been rolled under the bed on my birthday. This is the first occasion I have ever encountered anyone outside my family that has ever heard of that tradition. I was beginning to think it was something my Grandfather had made up. He used to roll my mother and my uncle under the bed on their birthdays and I can remember the first time he rolled me under the bed quite vividly. The excitement of that moment exceeded any excitement I had for my birthday.

  • Gail

    My father always put us under the bed on the morning of our birthday! I’ve been trying to find this tradition for years! He passed long ago and no one knows where this came from.

  • Larry

    Well, yes, Gail, my parents also rolled me under the bed on my birthday and gave me a light swat; one for each year. It’s almost like we are related!

  • Margaret

    Rolling children under the bed is a tradition in our family. My grandfather came from Scotch-Irish lineage and was born in Tenn. He is the one who practiced this.

  • Mark Lynn Ferguson

    Margaret, my daddy used to lift my bunk bed mattress and roll me into the wall, but that’s not quite the same, is it? Thanks for sharing!

  • Gina

    My family is from West Virginia & I got my nose buttered every birthday :-)

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