Sunday, August 21, 2011

Getting Your Nose Buttered

How many of you have ever heard of getting your nose buttered on your birthday?  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.

I just assumed that this was a common practice until several years ago, when I mentioned something about it to a co-worker here in Roanoke.  They looked at me like I was insane!  Then, I started asking everyone that I knew here if they had ever heard of this tradition.  No one had.   Then, I asked my husband if he had ever heard of it.  He grew up in Scott County, Virginia.  While he had not heard of that tradition, they would get soot from the chimney and smear it on the birthday person's nose.

Have you ever heard of this tradition or something similar?  Please leave a comment if you have.

98 comments:

  1. Hi there! I found your blog from the RT article a week or so ago, and I have enjoyed reading it.

    I had to comment on this post! When I was a little girl, my granny used to butter noses for birthdays. :o) I remember on my Papa's (father) birthday one year, she gave me butter and had me go butter his nose while he was sleeping. I could barely contain my fits of giggles while doing it. :o)

    Oh, I should add I grew up in Price's Fork in Montgomery County--just outside of Blacksburg.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

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    1. I live in Rhode Island. My family butter the nose's for the birthday too. I am of Irish decent on both sides and always was told it was an Irish tradition. I taught my children it was "good Irish luck!" As I look about on the internet I see it is actually Scottish from what I can see. not sure how it came into my family since we can only trace back to Ireland. Perhaps they were influenced by the Scottish at one point and those that came to America, RI specifically continued it. But it doesn't seem to have stuck in Ireland. Meanwhile I,m not changing my story or tradition. It is really fun!

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    2. Thank you for sharing your experience with nose buttering! I am loving all of the responses. I wouldn't change my story either because that is YOUR tradition! :D

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    3. I find this fascinating. I grew up in Pulaski County, VA and my mother always "buttered our nose" on our birthday. Today is my brother's birthday and I sent him an email telling him that I wish my arm could extend to give him his buttered nose birthday surprise. This is another wonderful VA custom to pass on.
      Diane

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    4. Diane, Thank you for sharing your tradition of nose buttering! I am just loving all of the comments! :)

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    5. This is a tradition that my husband said his family had so when our kids were growing up he always buttered their noses on their birthdays. We both grew up in Pulaski county, VA...he in Draper, me in the town of Pulaski. I had never heard of this tradition so it's interesting that his family did and mine didn't since we all came from the same area. Glad to find people from my area of the country. I live in Florida now.

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    6. My family is from Campbellsville, Ky. We practiced the nose buttering tradition which came from my Mother's family. My mom was born in Rock House Bottom, Ky. Her family moved from Cumberland County to Taylor County, Ky when she was a young child (possibly 1923 or 24) in their flatbed wagon, pulled by my grandfather's team of work horses. We assumed everyone buttered birthday noses until my brother married at a young age and brought his young bride home to live in our house. On her first birthday with us we naturally buttered her nose. Talk about the element of surprise! She couldn't imagine what had happened to her or why. In the Encyclopedia of Southern Traditions, there is mention made that at least 30% of the population of the early South was Celtic. In tracing my Mother's family tree, we can find nothing but English roots dating back to the Doomsday Book. Of course that does not account for their spouses. There was much talk of some Irish sprinkled in. Another Irish link for us was my Mom always alluding to "raw head and bloody bones" who supposedly lived in the basement, to keep us out of the basement which had unsafe stairs. It worked! James Joyce used the same phrase in his writing. So, we don't really know where the tradition originated but we loved it.

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  2. Hi Rach,

    I am glad you are enjoying reading my blog.

    I am so interested in this tradition because it does seem fairly localized. I have been researching this tradition, on and off, for several years. I have found brief mentions of similar traditions in the Nova Scotia area and in Scotland, but I need to investigate further. If I find out more, I will update my blog.

    Thank you so much for sharing!
    Kimberly

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  3. How fun! No I have never heard of the tradition before-but your post makes me want to find out where the tradition come from. Are there German influences in the area? Most of the people who first settled the southern Appalachians were from Scotland or Ireland-or both : )

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  4. Hi Tipper,

    All the branches of my ancestors all came from Scotland, England & Wales and they all settled the area pretty early. A little ways (well, by a little ways I mean around 30-40 miles!)north of where I grew up, along the Wilderness Road, there is more of a German influence.

    I do have some more notes about this tradition, but they are at home. I will post again tonight.

    Thank you for your interest! If you learn anything, please let me know.


    Kimberly

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  5. I have found someone who is from Bluefield, West Virginia area and they practiced birthday nose buttering.

    Digging back into my notes, I had found a source that indicated that the tradition is practiced in Canada. Mainly in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island & New Brunswick where it is known as "grease face". They would sneak up on the person and smear either grease or butter on the birthday person's nose.

    The idea may be that by greasing the nose, the person will be too slippery for bad luck to catch them.

    The interesting thing about all of this is my grandfather used to say something rather peculiar. When I would say "Grandpa, where are you going?" He would jokingly reply "I'm off to Nova Scotia!" The odd thing is that I know that Grandpa was never in Nova Scotia, nor did any of my family lines come from Nova Scotia or even anywhere in the area! (By the way, Nova Scotia is approximately 1,400 miles and 25 hours from where I grew up!)

    Anyone have any thoughts about that?!

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  6. I can remember getting my butt busted but never my nose buttered. Come to think of it, I'm trying to remember the earliest birthday. Can't remember anything about the first one and I was there. Can't recall any others. Must be an age thing.

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  7. I received this message about nose buttering via email:
    ************************************
    Hi

    This tradition comes from my in-laws, who came from Rhode Island. As far as I know, we are the only ones who keep this tradition alive, which is very uncommon where we live (Utah). Every year at birthday parties we have to explain the tradition to someone. I'm not sure if the reason is the same for everyone who does it, but in our family we say the nose buttering is to help you slide through the next year. Good to hear someone else is keeping some of these traditions alive.

    Clint

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    Thanks to Clint for sharing this!

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  8. Thanks for all the updates. I remember I posted something on my blog about nose buttering once (I think I was recalling the episode with Papa's nose) and I had a lot of comments from people about birthday traditions. It seems to me, the ones who were the nose butterers were in Canada.

    I've often wondered if it were a Scotts-Irish tradition, since that is indeed the ethnicity of the folks who settled that region. Now *I* want to do more research. :o)

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  9. Kimberly, I have heard of this too, from my grandmother. Her family originates from Scotland. I'll ask my family for more details and get back to you.

    Marni

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  10. Hi- A friend and I have been discussing this tradition and want to let you know we are from Maine! We both used to get our noses buttered on our birthday. We have inquired about it in our community and most haven't heard of it,but we found someone who still continues! My friend's mother (in her 80s) said her mother always buttered her nose, and that her mother's mother buttered her nose, too. So the tradition goes back a long time. It is fun to have been a part of it!

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  11. Thank you SO much for letting me know! I am excited to hear of another area that practices this tradition. So far, it looks like it is in Virginia, Maine, Scotland, and the Nova Scotia area. I really wish that I could find the connections.

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  12. I'm going to second Kimberly's comment about her in-laws in Rhode Island. I grew up in Rhode Island and always had my nose buttered by my father. But I didn't know any other Rhode Islanders who got their noses buttered. My father was of English/Irish descent but favored his English roots, so I always assumed it was an English tradition. He didn't have any connection to either Canada or Scotland, so he wouldn't have gotten it from either of those sources. He's dead, now, so I can't ask him where the tradition came from, but I suspect he grew up having his nose buttered.

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  13. Grew up in upstate South Carolina and we had our noses sooted on our birthdays. I called my mother who is 85 and she said it was a common tradition when she was growing up. Soot from the fireplace was used.

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    1. My husband's family from Southwestern Virginia always sooted noses too on birthdays! You are the only other person that I have heard from who has that tradition too! I will have to tell him. We vacation in upstate SC every Spring.

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    2. I grew up in WV and going to a one room school we always put coal soot on the face of the Birthday Boy/Girl.. I always thought it nice as my Birthday was a Holiday back then on 11-11 and I escaped the black face...I have been trying to find out the origin without success...

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    3. I grew up in WV and went to a one room school for first 6 grades. When one had a Birthday we all would take soot from the Coal bucket and put on the face of the one with the Birthday. I have often wondered where that tradition originated and can not find out on google...but was glad to see on here someone else remembers the soot....

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    4. My husband always talks about getting soot rubbed on his face for his birthday. He grew up in Scott Co, VA. The only thing that I have found about soot is that by rubbing it on the birthday person/ face, bad luck would not be able to recognize them in the coming year.

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  14. Thank you for your post about getting your nose sooted! I will have to be sure and tell my husband that someone else has that tradition! We go to upstate South Carolina (Table Rock area) every March and spend a week. I love that area!

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  15. I grew up in Pennsylvania and we always buttered the birthday person's nose. We're of Irish descent, so its gotta be linked back to Ireland/Scotland.

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  16. I am SO glad to hear of another area where this tradition is practiced! I will add Pennsylvania to my list. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  17. I am from New Brunswick Canada, and nose buttering has always been a tradition we pass on from generation to generation my family is Irish and scottish descent. From speaking with my family most say it was an Irish tradition.

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  18. My family has done this for generations. My parents were born in AK and OK but moved to California. The rumor is that it comes from scottish roots.

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  19. Dan, thank you for sharing your family's experience with nose buttering! I am loving hearing from everyone!!!

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  20. I am from Giles County, Virginia and our noses were always buttered, as well as my Mother's and my Grandparents who were born in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Must be a really old tradition.

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    1. YAY! Another Virginian with this tradition!!! I am VERY glad to hear from you. Thank you SO much for your post!

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  21. my mother followed this tradition. she was german

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    2. Did she live in Germany or did she live in the US? If in the US, what state? Thank you so much for sharing! :)

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  22. Good Morning all, I grew up in RI also and buttering noses was always a thing to be aware of as soon as you woke up you were a target, sometimes, still in bed! It definately got you up early on your birthday!

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    1. Thank you for sharing! I remember that my dad would sometimes get me with butter before I even got out of bed! :)

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  23. I grew up in Illinois. Both of my parents are of German descent. Every year we had our nose greased on our birthday. This was from my dad's family. We have all continued the tradition with our children and grandchildren. A cousin ran into a family in New Mexico who practiced the same tradition!

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    1. Fabulous! Thank you for sharing! It is so interesting where this tradition is popping up!

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  24. Hi, my grandmother always has done this, and we do this as tradition. We asked my grandmother where it comes from, she did not know, just that is has always been done. she is polish. we live in vemont

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    1. Rob, Thank you for sharing this! I am loving all of the stories from everyone. Polish & Vermont! It is so interesting that there is not really a common thread between everyone who is familiar with this tradition.

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  25. Wanda Strothman BrowningApril 15, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    I grew up in Wisc. We had our noses buttered on our birthdays. I'm 57 now and haven't thought about it for a long while, Didn't do it to my children. Googled it to see if there was a reason for birthday nose buttering and here I am. My grandmother's family was from England..Isle of Mann.

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  26. Wanda, Thank you so much for sharing your information about this tradition. It seems that I stopped doing this tradition some time in my late 20s and didn't really think too much about it until just a few years ago. (I am now 48)

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  27. I am from Iowa and my Dad used to always butter our nose for our birthday, this tradition has been passed down through our family, and now our children do it to their family. I have never heard of anyone else doing this it is nice to know we aren't the only ones. It is really special to us now because it is something my dad started and he is no longer with us but his tradition lives on. I was always curious where this came from!?

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    1. Hi Phylann, Thank you for sharing! I would love to know where this tradition started and I suspect that it may have originated in Scotland/England. However, I have no proof of that, so I am still trying to figure it out. When and if I find more information, I will be posting it on this blog.

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  28. My family has this tradition too! Today is my birthday and I got woken up with the butter. I grew up in Virginia Beach.

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    1. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Deborah!! I am excited to find someone else in Virginia who practices this tradition!

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  29. I was introduced to the "nose buttering" on your birthday by my husband's family when I joined them (59 yrs ago).
    His family is of Canadian/French descent,and come from Massachusetts. Some of my grandchildren didn't like the "butter" but have accepted having their noses "frosted" with frosting from the birthday cake! We were always told the buttering was to help you slip into your new year. Whatever the original reason was, it remains a fun tradition. Of course the important part is to do the buttering when the birthday person is not expecting it!

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    1. Oh, I agree! The most fun part was trying to sneak up on the birthday person and smear their nose with butter when they least expected it. I remember when it was my birthday, I would walk around all day, nervous as could be, wondering WHEN it was going to happen! My dad and grandpa were always able to get me good!

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  30. my mother is from southwest va and we always had our noses buttered. wish I could say it was def. Irish decent but we are Irish, German Dutch and Native American descent. So could be both German and Irish/Scottish? Really interesting to see we are not the only ones doing it. Hubby looked at me like I was crazy when I did it on my sons 1st B day'

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    1. I always just assumed that everyone did it. Until I buttered my husband's nose just after we first met! He thought that I had went crazy when I smeared butter all over his nose. He is from far southwest VA in Scott County, but they didn't ever butter noses. I am from the Floyd/Patrick Co area of Virginia where everyone used to butter noses!

      Thank you for sharing!

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  31. My mother taught my Dad and his family this tradition.. She brought it from Scotland.

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    1. Ginny, Thank you so much for sharing! I have long suspected that this tradition might have originated in Scotland, but I have been having trouble finding connections. You have given me a wonderful connection! ;) By any chance, do you know what part of Scotland your mother came from?

      Thank you again!

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  32. My rather large family here in Oklahoma has practiced nose buttering for well over 100 yrs. They say that back in the day, they would use axle grease from the wagon wheels.

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    1. Thank you for sharing! That sounds like a blending of my family's tradition of buttering noses combined with my husband's family's tradition of using black grease!! Do you know where your family came from before Oklahoma?

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  33. Nova Scotia-- small town of Moser River-- always buttered noses on birthdays. I, too, was surprised in later years to hear that people had not heard of this tradition.

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    1. When I was a little girl, I was always asking my grandpa where he was going when he would leave the house. He would always laugh and say "I'm off to Nova Scotia." So your comment did make me smile! :D

      Thank you for sharing that you are familiar with the tradition also.

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  34. Patrick County. We buttered noses. We also loved each other "a bushel, and a peck, and a hug around the neck".

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    1. Yep! Good ol' Patrick County! That is where I went to high school! :D

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  35. I am 61 and have always had my nose buttered. My father's ancestors were from Sweden and Denmark and since it was he who began it, I can only suppose that it was a tradition originated by his grandfather Swen. I have passed the tradition on to my children and it is now on it's way to the 6th generation of those of us born in the US.

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    1. Thank you for sharing, Sandy! I am so intrigued by all of the folks that have posted about nose buttering!!

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  36. My mom buttered our noses on birthdays. I just googled this because I didn't know where it came from. She's deceased. I think it came from the Scottish and /or Irish. My great uncle remembers this but doesn't know here it came from. I'm from RI. Elizabeth

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    1. Elizabeth, Thank you for sharing! I have heard from some other folks in RI who also have this tradition.

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  37. I grew up in southern West Virginia and buttering noses was a tradition there. I have questioned many people from the south about this and no one has ever heard of this tradition.

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    1. What county was it that you grew up in?

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  38. I too am from RI, and of Irish descent. we used to always get our noses buttered on our birthdays. I made the mistake of doing this to a friend who knew nothing of it, I just thought everyone did it!! Turned out to be even funnier,albeit made me feel quite odd and when I looked it up on the internet at the time, I couldn't find anything on it. Thank You for this blog!!! Now I only do it within my family because it takes too much explaining. LOL

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    1. Thank you for your comment. Like you, I was so surprised to find out that this was not a universal tradition!

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  39. Another nose butterer here on So Cal... Tradition was from my great grandfathers family... my own gradpa grew up with it... and every generation has carried it on. Just got an email video today of my five year old grandaughter getting buttered while still asleep on her birthday morning. I used to contact my kid's roommates when they were away at college to make sure the tradition never missed a birthday. They thight the idea was nuts, but always delightedly did the job! I remember a delighted call from my daughter in he first year at school to tell me some friends tackled her on campus and rubbed her nose with butter... She was absolutely ecstatic that the tradition found her even 1000 miles from home!

    My great grandpa was from Mass.... I was told that the tradition could be found mentioned in letters from the Samuel P. Chase family (as in Chase-Manhatten Bank) back in the early 1800's.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your connection to this tradition! That is delightful that you arranged to get your daughter even when she was away at school. I love that! That is also some very interesting info about the Samuel P. Chase family.

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  40. I have never come across anyone who buttered noses on birthdays like my family does. We live near Joplin, MO. This tradition was passed down from my grandpa and grandma on my dad's side of the family. I believe they were of Irish decent. I find all this information very interesting!

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  41. Smyth Co, Virginia here. My sibs and I grew up with our granny "blacking" our noses. We used anything we could find: soot, dirt, mascara (which, btw, is the best!) Besides blacking noses, we'd get the annual birthday beatin's (plus one to grow on) and when we were smaller, shoved under granny's tall bed. I hadn't heard of buttering noses until about 10 years ago.

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    1. Boo,
      My husband grew up in Scott County and they always blackened each others noses. He also said that they shoved the birthday person under the bed too, which I had never heard of.

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  42. From Halifax nova Scotia and I have been getting butter on my nose for my birthday every year :) its funny because when I tell friends they have never heard of it. I tried to find where its started and ended up here.

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    1. Thank you for sharing! Do you still live in Nova Scotia? An interesting thing is that when I was growing up, my grandfather (here in Virginia) when asked "Where are you going, Grandpa?" Would reply "Nova Scotia!" Now I know that he was never in Nova Scotia and none of our family ever lived or visited there. I don't know why he said that, but I find it very interesting that we butter noses here and you butter noses there! :)

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  43. Judy: from west coast of Newfoundland, we always had our noses buttered on our birthday, but it's odd to know that some families in our area have not practiced this fun tradition. Wish I knew the origin.

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    1. It seems that quite a few of the folks that I have heard from are from Virginia or the Newfoundland/Nova Scotia area. I wonder what the connection could possibly be!?

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  44. I grew up in Rhode Island and we always had our noses buttered on our birthdays! Both parents also grew up with this tradition. My Dad is Swedish and French/Canadian, and my Mom was Swedish. I couldn't believe it when I realized, while growing up, that not one of my friends had ever heard of this buttering. And still to this day, I don't know of anyone else who does this. I think it's great though, and love it when my kids butter me!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story! I have heard from several folks in RI that still butter noses!

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  45. I live in Honolulu, Hawaii and I'm happy to say that the tradition is still lived on in our family. My dad is of German/English/Irish descent and he was the one that buttered our noses on our birthday before we woke up. It was always fun for me, especially because we practiced it 8 times a year (family of 8). I've done it with my children and I was so excited when I saw a picture on my daughter's facebook of my grandson's buttered nose. The tradition lives on! By the way, my dad grew up in MA. during his childhood years but I will ask him about this tradition. I enjoyed reading the comments and am thrilled to know people are still carrying this fun tradition. Aloha!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story! I love knowing that this tradition is in Hawaii! I am very happy to know that your children are carrying on with this tradition.

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  46. I am from RI and always had my nose buttered, and it's now a practice I continue. My family is Irish and I was always told it was an Irish tradition. I do it to my Greek family and they think I'm just a nutty Irishman :)

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    1. It seems that quite a few people in RI practice this tradition! It wouldn't surprise me if it started in Ireland. I tend to think that the tradition started somewhere in the British Isles because it seems that is the one common thread in everyone that I have heard from.

      Thank you for sharing :D

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  47. I am in Spotsylvania VA. We also butter the birthday person's nose. My great Granny from Beckley WV remembers her family doing it as a little girl.

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    1. I had some family in the Beckley & Princeton area and they did it also! :D

      Thank you for sharing!

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  48. I am originally from North East Texas (Mt Vernon) and grew up with the nose buttering tradition (youngest of 7 kids) so passed this on to my 4 children. To my knowledge they have carried on this tradition. My parents have been gone 34 years now and one of the many things I strongly regret is not asking them more questions about family traditions etc. As I've grown older and grandkids have begun asking the "why's" of nose buttering as they don't particularly like it, ha, my 3rd son and I decided to do a "nose buttering search" thus came upon your blog! We are driving back to our homes in NW Arksnsas from seeing my one remaining sibling who is at the point of death, so have been doing a lit of reminiscing - like the origin of nose buttering. It has been SOOOOO interesting to read all the comments on your blog - as others have said - I thought our family was the only ones who practiced this delightful tradition. So fun to read of others' comments! My dad was German (parents immigrants) and my mom Irish. Best I can determine from all your readers is that it appears to be a Northern European "thing" - also interesting were comments about Luck for sliding into new year - that's the very 1st explanation I've EVER heard! Thanx fir starting this interesting discussion!!'

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with this tradition. This has, by far, been my most popular blog post! I have so enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

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  49. I was raised in the Beckley WV area and my mother always buttered my nose on my birthday. I did it to my children when they were going up and we lived in Englewood OH. We now live in FL.

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    1. I also grew up in Beckley WV, my grandmother always buttered our noses. I thought everyone did it.

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  50. My family has done this for generations. I continue to do it to this day but my wife finds it annoying. HAha She never heard of this 'til she met me. I grew up in Maine and my parents came from Con. I was told its Irish blessing of good luck for the upcoming year...read online its from Scotland. LOVE catching someone unaware. = )

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  51. 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!

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    1. Leaona,
      First, let me apologize for not posting your comment earlier! I somehow managed to overlook it!

      Where did you grow up? I love the fact that your mom did it the day after your birthday! What a great tradition! :D

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  52. I was born in Princeton West Virginia. We always buttered noses on birthdays! And , my brother added that we were spanked( I remember that) and rolled under the bed too! I looked into this some years ago and found different origins of this tradition. In general, it seems to be British or Northern European. We have always used butter. My son and his family changed that to frosting! I do know that grease or soot was used also in the old days. We were told that It was for good luck but it makes sense that it would help you "slide" into the new year. We include family members and close friends in this. If you get your nose buttered, it is because the family really thinks of you as family. Fun reading!

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  53. I'm from Northern California and my family does this too, but ive heard of only one other family that does this too, it's cool to see so many others do the same tradition! We've done this for generations and i plan to pass this down to my kids one day (:

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  54. I'm so glad that I'm not the only one whose family did this. I too grew up in the Grayson/Carroll County area, and I was starting to think that my family was just a bit crazy. I also grew up in the Grayson/Carroll County, Virginia area. As well, my family's ancestry is Irish on my mother's side.

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    1. I'm glad to know that so many people do have this tradition. Every time that I bring it up, my husband still thinks I am crazy! :) I am just amazed that he grew up in Scott County and he has never heard of it. Thank you for sharing!

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  55. I completely understand my dad always would butter our noses on our birthday. I thought it was just something that was done but when I went off to college and I would talk about it nobody had ever heard of that tradition and they all would look at me like I was crazy as well. I have grown up and am still living in Nebraska, and my father's side of the family is irish in decent as well. So Im not sure where it comes from but I completely understand where you are coming from.

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    1. I am beginning to think that there is a definite connection to Ireland/Scotland based on what so many people have said. Thank you SO much for sharing!! Do you know if your ancestors ever lived on the east coast?

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  56. Carol, I received an email that you posted and I approved it to be published, but for some odd reason, it is not showing up here. I'm trying to figure it out.

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    1. I finally found it under the original comment on November 9, 2011!

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