Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Butter on your nose - a slippery birthday tradition

The other day, I got an email from Shirley, who writes:

"When I was growing up, it was a tradition in our home that on your birthday your mother would sneak up on you and put butter on your nose to bring you good luck on your birthday. I know none of my townie friends experienced this. So, I wonder if this was something only my family did? Or if it was a outport tradition? My family had connections to Placentia Bay, Bonavista Bay, Green Bay and Corner Brook. Have you heard of this?"

I have indeed heard of it, but it isn't a tradition I'm overly familiar with, and I'd love to know if other people celebrate someone's birthday in this way, and where they are from. A quick internet search reveals a little bit of information, much of it recycled word for word from various websites. The tradition goes by a few names, such as "grease face" and "buttered noses." Another variant is referred to as being "flakied" - where a flaky pastry (notably the Passion Flakie popularized by the Canadian firm of Vachon) is rubbed in the face of the person celebrating their birthday.

The tradition clearly goes beyond Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada.  One blogger writes, "When I was growing up in the Floyd/Patrick/Carroll counties area of Virginia, it was traditional to attempt to sneak up on the birthday person and smear butter on their nose. Even our teachers in elementary school would get in on the action, going to the cafeteria and getting the butter." Another American blogger writes that "As the story goes, the butter is meant to help you slide into your new year!"

If you have thoughts on birthday butter or flakies, email me at dale@heritagenl.ca or leave a comment below.


Anonymous said...

Hello! I found your blog when Googling this tradition to find out if it was something other people did as well as my dad! I grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My dad loved this tradition and I can remember the smell of the smear of butter staying in my nose all day. He always said the deed had to be done before noon, although he said that about April Fool's Day, too, so maybe he was just trying to contain the chaos. :)


Anonymous said...

I Googled this also to see if anyone else went through this on their birthday.
I remember waking up in the morning on my birthdays when I was little, and my mother would put butter on my nose.
I hated it, waking up that way, and I would cry. I would fuss and cry and beg her not to do that to me again.
It got so that I dreaded waking up on my birthday, and would force myself to wake up before she could come in my room and do that to me. It was a very bad memory for me, and I didn't think it was funny. I also was very upset that she wouldn't stop doing this "tradition" even though I would end up in tears.

Anonymous said...

Just for fun I googled butter on the nose. Yes, it was a tradition in my family to butter the birthday persons nose for good luck.. Both my parents were from P.E.I. Canada. I have continued this tradition in Toronto. Only the Eastern Atlantic people get it. The others just think it is mean.

Ka said...

My grandfather used to put butter on our noses for our birthdays, when we least expected it, even though we knew it was coming at some point. I recently asked my mother about how the tradition started but she couldn't remember. I didn't expect to find an answer when I googled it and was surprised to see how many have commented on it being a tradition in their families! I did read that it is reputed to be of Scottish decent which my grandfather was.

Anonymous said...

My family has this tradition as well! It was passed down from my great grandmother who was from the West Virginia/South Western Virginia area as well. Much of my family still lives in that general area and we are keeping the tradition alive!

Anonymous said...

When I was young your nose always got buttered and a spank for each year and one to grow on. If no one did it then we always thought that your birthday had been forgotten. My ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland, England and Nova Scotia. The first time I did it to my husband, who is Italian, he had a fit. The tradition has now faded out in my family. How sad!

nicpeltz said...

My family does this! The tradition comes from my grandmothers side who hailed from New England, and England/Scotland prior to that. We've never known anyone else that does this or where it all stemmed from, but we all still follow this tradition.

Robert King said...

I’ve an Irish and maybe Flemish heritage, and from my earliest memories, our parents woke us up on our birthdays with butter on our noses. I think this goes way back to when butter was something special, so perhaps also related to a wish for prosperity in the coming year.

Anonymous said...

Yep, it's my birthday and I got the butter on my nose. I was born and raised in California but have grandparents hailing from Minnesota and before that England. I've always wondered where this started, too. We always took it with great humor and a little disappointed if someone forgot. But also didn't give in too easy either. lol