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.


  • 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 🙂

  • Old Nana

    Cierra — I am with you.
    I suffered through this “tradition” every year, and cried and cried as my mother would do this to me while I was still asleep, before getting up for school.
    I would beg and cry, but she would continue it the next year.
    I absolutely hated it and hated waking up that way.
    I vowed I’d never do that to my kids, and I never woke them up by taunting them.
    I don’t know how this started; but I, as a little girl, was so upset by it, that I had to plan to wake up very early on my birthday so that it wouldn’t happen again to me. After several years of this strain of waking up and crying and screaming as my mother approached me and I refused to hold still, etc….she finally discontinued it.
    We are from Massachusetts and her mother did at one point live in Virginia…so I don’t know if it was a regional thing. I don’t know of any of my friends having to go through this tradition.
    It was a terrible way to wake up and I hated it.

  • Mary Dudley Gilmer

    When I married in 1954, my mother-in-law had carried out the birthday nose-buttering that she learned from her mother in Greenwood, SC. My husband and I later used the trick (done, if possible, in early morning while the honoree was still in bed!) with our four kids. They all passed the tradition down to theirs, and now their grandkids. We lived most of our time in NC, but the grands are all over the place, so hopefully the greased nose will remain as a fun tradition. Today, a granddaughter happened to be at my house for her 24th birthday. Her dad and I sneaked into the room where she slept on a sleeping bag on the floor. We each buttered her nose and said, “Happy Birthday!” It was still fun to do.

  • Elizabeth

    My family also held with the b-day butter tradition and we loved it but never knew any reason for it. Now, as an adult I enjoy hearing about the quirky rituals from other regions and cultures. Thanks for sharing.
    PS margarine was substitued some years with the high cost of dairy in a family of four. Still had the same result- made us laugh.

  • Donna

    My mother said the tradition of butter on the nose came from her mother. She also said that after the butter was put on her nose, she was rolled off the bed & then under the bed. So I guess they were carrying on 2 traditions at once! Our beds were too low to be rolled under, but we definitely got butter on our noses! I did it to my children too! None of us knew where it came from, or ever found anyone else who knew about it until now!

  • Debbie

    In my family Dad put us under the bed on our birthdays. My uncle did his kids too. None of us ever knew why… my dad doesn’t know either, just tradition. He grew up in TN of Scotch-Irish descent. I haven’t been able to find out where this tradition came from, but interesting to know others have heard of it.

  • CJ Groves

    It was passed down in our family, on my Mother’s side. 🙂 It is actually a Dutch tradition and also in some parts of Canada, It is supposed to “ward off bad luck.” LOL! Regardless, it was something that happened when we were growing up, and STILL happens in our homes now that we are grown. It is always fun trying to figure when, where, and who its going to come from. LOL!

  • Kittie Sloan

    My mother aged 89 was just sharing that on her and her siblings birthdays her dad would put them under the bed. My grandfather was born in 1899 in Missouri. Mom fortunately did not pass this tradition on.
    Another birthday tradition was to put a dime (or another coin) into the birthday cake….this one was passed on. It added a bit of excitement to the birthday cake to see who got the dime…but that was when you could buy something for a dime.

  • Dianne

    I googled this because I thought my family was the only ones who did this!! Sad that my children and husband refused to let me continue the tradition, but glad for the fond memories it made!

  • Kathleen T.

    We still do the butter on the nose. We never knew why. Googling this was great, my kids thought I was crazy.and i could never really tell them why which made me wonder if my parents were crazy as well.

    You hate it as a kid but miss it as an adult. if my family forgets to butter my nose It just feels like something is missing and kind of sad. We have carried this tradition on, and now my granddaughters look forward to buttering a birthday nose, they act like they don’t like it done to them, but seeing their excitement when they do it to others, I’m confident they will continue the tradition. Now I’m excited to tell my brothers and sisters why mom and dad did this to us and let them know that our parents were not crazy after-all.

    Thank you and many happy buttered noses to all of you..

  • Marcia Key

    So glad to hear others actually shared this same tradition! As kids my siblings and I endured waking up to a good nose buttering on our birthdays each year. This tradition, passed down from my father, was not one I had in common with any of my friends, which always left me wondering where it came from since we were all from rural, Surry County, North Carolina. As odd as it was, the tradition brought great fun with it. My brother always tried to devise ways to keep from having his nose buttered. The night before his birthday (during his teenage years), he even went so far as to construct early warning systems by tying string to his doorknob, which when the door was opened would set off a chain of events across his room, ultimately turning on his alarm clock so that we couldn’t sneak in and butter his nose without waking him up!
    My friends also adopted the “butter your nose” tradition for a few years at our birthday sleepovers. We even resorted to lotion once when there was no butter in the fridge.
    My family never knew where the tradition came from or why we got our nose buttered, but like so many traditions that lose their original significance, we may not have understood it but we sure could count on it!! My daddy was typically the one who did the buttering, and it is definitely one of my favorite childhood memories of him. Although it wasn’t exactly enjoyable to wake up to butter being smeared on your nose, the laughter, love, and attention that came with it were well worth the greasiness! 🙂

  • Sher

    Dad always made sure we were buttered to slide into the next year. Lol. We are Irish and Scottish. Good times. I try to keep it going. My grand baby’s bday is tomorrow. I will have the butter ready!

  • Anonymous

    I’m from Scotch/Irish decent living in R.I. We always buttered noses on the birthday morning. My daughter, a dermatologist, however, has switched to sunblock or moisturizer. We were told that it would help us slide smoothly through the next year. 12 yr old grandson was greased this A.M.

  • Debbie Amaral

    We have done this in my family forever. We are Irish and my grandmother was from Nova Scotia.
    Still do it to my grandkids

  • Johnny morris

    I just turned 60 and my 89 year old mother buttered my nose like she did when I was growing up. She was born in Patrick county va. Great memories. Hope she will be around next year to butter again.

  • Colleen

    My dad would butter our noses (my sister and me) on our birthdays. We thought he was nuts. He loves to play pranks so we just went along with it. He’s from Patrick County, VA. When my husband and I moved to OH, we would invite the younger generation of my co-workers over for their birthdays and butter their noses. They think we’re nuts but years later, those young people (now in the 30s) remember the event fondly. I’m not sure if any of them are carrying on that tradition but it makes them smile when I send my typical happy birthday email. They always respond with a thank you for remembering me and “I hope I get my nose buttered today!”

  • Laura Kneib

    Hey there –

    Just found this posting. I am from Rhode Island and have had my nose buttered over the course of most of my 62 years on the planet, as have my sisters. It was handed down via my mother’s side of the family; not sure how far back the tradition goes. At least 6 generations that I know for sure. I buttered my son and he butters his children, so that makes two more generations forward. The Greenleaf’s have been on this continent since the mid 1500’s. It’s likely it was brought with the English/Irish ancestors.

    Have many more buttered birthdays.


  • Dale

    Just had my 64th birthday and my husband and some friends gave me a nice dinner and party, I am not sure why I ask about nose buttering but I was the only one out of 8 that had even heard of it. My granny started it then she would let us kids do it and the butter slab would get bigger and bigger. Have not done it in years think I will start. A lot of Virginia people i was born and festered in Floyd county VA

  • Natalie L McKenna

    I am 85 years old and as a child and even in my teen years, every birthday from the time I can remember was buttered on my birthday by my pop and continued through my teen years. After my children were born they, in turn were buttered and now my youngest daughter continues with her children. My father was of Irish decent and I thought it was a custom there, which my father carried on. Such wonderful memories!

  • Harriet

    Always a tradition in my family. I never knew where it came from. Basically, everyone I told about this looked at me like I had two. Glad it is a traditions and it rooted in other family cultures as well.

  • Deborah Carlson

    We butter noses every birthday. I am a direct descendent of King Robert the Bruce. I’ve been known to pull some pretty elaborate buttering, especially when my kids were far away. My daughter was doing a semester abroad in Australia, one year, and her friends couldn’t find any butter, so they use Vegimite. Although some say they have outgrown the tradition, I will be forwarding this to them so they will keep it up. YAY


    Just maybe buttering the nose and rolling one under the bed was to help catch dust bunnies…..just saying.

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