Showing posts with label birthdays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label birthdays. Show all posts

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!"

UPDATE: 14 MAY 2020

Madeline Moore, of El Cerrito, California, writes:
I was born and brought up in Providence, R.I. We children buttered each other's noses on birthdays which meant being chased around all day by a sibling with a hunk of butter on her finger. Mother did nothing more than shake her head. I have lived in California for the last 63 years. Nobody out here has heard of it. A faculty member at UC Berkeley said the custom originated in Cornwall UK. I'm now 86 and it pleases me that I'm in good company.

UPDATE: 22 JULY 2020

David Baxter, who grew up in North Carolina, writes:

I grew up in North Carolina and our tradition was putting black grease on the birthday person’s nose by sneaking up from behind as a surprise. I know of several families in NC that did the same thing. I thought it was a southern tradition, didn’t know it has its roots in Canada. None of my grandparents or parents ever told me what it was supposed to mean. I assumed that it was for good luck. My kids hated it and would run away, my wife from Indiana didn’t understand what it was all about, so we discounted it once our kids got to be teenagers. It made me a little sad to see a tradition die away, even though it was a little strange. 

If you have thoughts on birthday butter, black grease, or flakies, email me at or leave a comment below.