Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Butter On Your Nose

My life in appalachia - Birthday traditions
Have you ever made butter? I have never used a churn like the old timers did, but I have made it in a food processor and it’s mighty good.

Recently Kimberly Burnette-Dean, who blogs at The Wheel & Distaff wrote a post about a unique Birthday Tradition. When Kimberly was growing up in the Floyd/Patrick/Carroll counties area of Virginia it was a very common birthday tradition, even the teachers at school got in on the action.

If it was your birthday you could expect someone to try and ‘butter’ or ‘grease’ your nose. After doing a little research on the tradition, Kimberly discovered it is thought to be from Scotland. And the theory behind the tradition: if your nose is greased any bad luck you run into will simply slide right off.

I’ve never heard of the tradition have you? The only birthday tradition I can think of is giving the birthday person a spanking  (a pretend spanking) which consists of as many licks as they are old…with an extra one to grow on. Oh and one more Granny always puts an extra candle on the cake for one to grow on too.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.



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  • Reply
    Charlie Agnew
    May 18, 2021 at 11:58 am

    My father grew up in Floyd County, VA and lives in Axton, VA now. He said they always buttered your nose on birthday and stuck you under the kitchen table. Birthday spankings were common too. We still carry on the tradition with our kids (except the under the table part). We currently live in Cochran, GA.

  • Reply
    Dena Nuse
    November 15, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    I grew up in Preston County, WV and in my family if it was your birthday you had to watch out for getting your face “blacked” not PC or un PC at all. It just consisted of someone sneaking up on you and smearing coal dust or dirt on your face for your birthday. We always called it getting your face blacked for your birthday. Many folks in my region had this tradition growing up.

  • Reply
    January 8, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    The butter on the nose is a common tradition in Canada that is still carried on, perhaps in researching there you may find out more about its origins. Likely similar waves of immigrants that went to Canada also went down to the Appalachian and in their isolation the tradition stuck.

  • Reply
    Martha West
    May 13, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    My mom was born and raised in Carroll County and she buttered our noses for our birthdays. Never knew where the tradition was from but most of her ancestors were Germans who immigrated here in 1750s.

  • Reply
    Johnny morris
    January 27, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    My mother was born in Patrick county va. Town called meadows of dan. She would butter our noses every birthday. Just turned 60 and mom 89 butterd. It again. Hope she can do it again next year

    • Reply
      PAMELA melvin
      September 2, 2019 at 4:22 pm

      Bland county here and yes our noses were buttered and we got a lick for every year.

    • Reply
      Pamela J Matherly
      February 12, 2021 at 6:04 am

      My mom came from Marion Va. Her father used to mix ash from the wood stove with lard and butter the kids noses on their birthday. My mom (80), me (60) , still butters my nose.

  • Reply
    September 7, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Appalachian Girl-great to hear from you! Ive heard the tradition of buttering the nose and for giving a spanking with the number of licks corresponding with the number of years old. But Ive never heard the under the bed part : ) Maybe another Blind Pig Reader has and will chime in with their knowledge!
    Have a great week!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Appalachian Girl
    September 5, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Looking for anyone who knows the tradition of a birthday spanking and then being stuffed under the bed? Family I know from Kentucky does this. Someone earlier said butter on the nose and then being stuffed under the bed? Maybe you are being hidden from any bad luck, but if it comes the butter will make it slide off.

    • Reply
      Debra K Oliver
      July 1, 2019 at 12:59 pm

      My grandfather would give us one lick for every year and an extra to grow on, then rub ashes from the fireplace on our faces and stuff us under the bed! We knew it was coming and would semi run from him! We secretly loved the attention!

  • Reply
    August 3, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Christine-thank you for the comment! I never thought about it being a tradition but I have often seen folks pour water on people’s heads as a birthday prank : )
    Hope you have a great day!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    July 31, 2015 at 10:53 am

    My mother-in-law was born in 1923 in Yancey County, N.C. She remembers a tradition of dunking in, or pouring water over, the head of a child on his or her birthday. Does anyone know more about this tradition?

  • Reply
    Donna (Fruend) Shuford-daughter of Esther (Loucks) Fruend
    January 8, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    I was born in southern Illinois, as was my mother, and her mother. My mother learned the butter on the nose on your birthday tradition from her mother and passed it down. She told us her mother would put butter on her nose while she was still in bed in the morning on her birthday, then roll her off the bed and then under the bed! Our beds were not far enough off the ground for that part, but we got butter on our noses!

  • Reply
    L Harden
    October 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    I grew up in SW Virginia. My mother’s family originated from Meadows of Dan/Stuart (Patrick county) area and Mt.Airy Nc. The buttering of the nose was a big tradition in my family. You just never knew when and where the butter would come in, but usually sometime after blowing out the candles. It was said to be for good luck. My family is of Swiss/German, Scottish, British, and some Irish heritage. My mother seemed to think that this was a Scandinavian practice and the fact that it is done in that particular part of Canada leads me to believe that she might be right. Look at where so many of those who immigrated there came from. It’s a fun tradition and it brings happy memories.

    • Reply
      Pamela J Matherly
      February 12, 2021 at 6:09 am

      My mother is from Marion Va. She has the same tradition of buttering your nose on your birthday, passed down from her dad.

  • Reply
    Dashel Jamison
    March 28, 2012 at 2:17 am

    My mother was taught this song when she was a little girl in Scotland.
    Being born in 1925, I guess it was taught to her in about 1930 as a 5 year old by either friends or her own mother.
    Subsequently, she taught it to me when I was also about 5 years old around 1967.
    So far, I can find no trace of the lyrics anywhere on Google.
    I have included them here as best as I can remember to preserve them; as they may be forgotten by her generation and exist only here in print, with the melody only in my mind.
    They also serve as a link for my children to their Nana.
    I hope one day to teach the melody to my daughter Olivia, who is a musician, so that she will know the tune her Nana used to sing to me. : )
    Title Unknown.
    When I was young I had no sense,
    I thought I’d go to sea.
    I stepped aboard a Chinese ship
    And a Chinaman said to me….
    “Iskara-bunga, Ee-I-unga
    Fe Fo Fi fam”
    Stick your nose in the butter
    For a poor Chinaman.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Ummm… fresh butter. It must be sooo delicious!! We are so used to processed everything… ugh!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 7:56 am

    If you can believe this; PA dairy farmers are not allowed to sell raw milk to the public. I guess the law took effect a few years back. I’ve heard that to really make good butter, you really need it to be fresh from the cow. No way of that happening here. I even tried to approach a kid at the fair that had a bunch of cows there. He wouldn’t budge. Someone told me to go to a farm and say that we have orphaned kittens and ask if we could have some milk for them. Haven’t tried that yet.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    August 25, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    I made butter just yesterday, and then used the butter in a batch of peanut butter cookies. I milk a Jersey cow.
    Here’s something I recall: when I was a kid, sometimes a little girl would press a dandelion against another girl’s chin with a rubbing motion; supposedly if there was a yellow smear, it meant you liked butter. I don’t think I ever saw a smear that was visible, though.

  • Reply
    Rod Weigel
    August 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    When I was growing up we always had a cow and subsequently plenty of fresh milk and cream. Being the oldest churning was my job, usually twice a week. For whatever reason I seemed to have a natural talent for the job and could make butter in a very short time. I didn’t mind the job at all and actually found it somewhat soothing as I had a certain rhythm I used.
    My mother would put the cream in the crock churn, which was the old fashioned clapper type churn; to let it sour then I would churn the butter. She would remove the butter from the buttermilk which is one of my favorites though today good buttermilk is difficult to find. She would then rinse the butter in cold water before forming it.
    Mother had grown up in a large farm family where there were several children that would share the churning responsibility so she was very familiar with the process and was impressed with how quickly I could make butter.
    I posted here on the Blind Pig about being half Rebel and half Yankee and that my Southern Grand-Father hadn’t forgotten the North-South rivalry thing which set up this competition. We were in Alabama one summer and my Mother had been talking about my ability to churn so my Grand-Father commented there was no Yankee, especially a child that could out churn a Southerner so the contest was on. My Grand- Mother set out two churns to sour and when they were ready it began. I was victorious by ten minutes or so and there was never another mention of churning while we were there and I became the official churner the duration of our visit
    I don’t seem to recall the birthday buttered nose but the one for good measure I do. We had another birthday ritual that was used at the birthday party called the pattling machine where in place of everyone pattling you they would form a standing long line sort of like a tunnel and the birthday person would crawl the length of the line between the legs of everyone and as they passed through your legs you spanked them as many licks as you could. I’m not certain where that came from but I do recall how much fun we had doing it.
    I truly miss the old days and old ways and it saddens me to know the youth of today have been robbed of so many good memories that were created in that era.

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    We always used to put butter on each others’ noses when I was growing up in southern WV. I even remember the kids trying to get a few teachers at school with butter on their birthdays!
    I used to make butter often with my son when he was small. We made it in a small canning jar for holidays. Just pour heavy cream in the jar & shake until butter forms. We would pass the jar around the family, roll it to each other on the takes a little while & one person gets tired of shaking it. My son loved having special homemade butter on holidays shaped & seasoned just the way we liked it.

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I’ve never heard of that tradition either. The spankings with an extra to grow on or the extra candle for good luck.
    My Mom would get pretty upset about something my Dad had done to irretate her. Then he’d come around to make up and she’d say “Don’t try to butter me up” I’m still mad a you.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced southerner)
    August 25, 2011 at 7:37 am

    How fun that this topic just happened to come up on (of all days) my birthday! No, no one buttered my nose. I’ve heard “butter my butt and call me a biscuit” before (I use that expression frequently), but nothing about noses.
    Did see an idea that a restaurant came up with to keep people busy waiting for their food. Give them a sterilized, small jar with marbles – also sterilized – and fill it part of the way with heavy cream and let them shake it. When their bread came out, they had made their own butter. Bet it was kinda noisy.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    August 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    I am the very proud owner of the churn my grandmaw set up housekeeping with in 1912. I’ve never churned in it (don’t have the patience-lol), but from the stories Mitchell & my mom have told me, it’s alot of work! I’ve heard Amish butter is the best there is-I need to go to the farmer’s market to get some-to heck with waistlines & cholesterol!

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Don’t know the butter your nose tradition, but do remember making butter a time or two in a scalded out Miracle Whip jar. Dad was a milkman, and occasionally he’d bring home the past-date cream. Then we kids would take turn shaking it in the jar while watching The Ed Sullivan Show. Turned out well too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    August 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    This has been a fascinating topic for me. So far I have found the tradition in Virginia and West Virginia, 1 person in South Carolina and 1 in Rhode Island. Most appear to have Scottish ancestors. Then there is a big tradition of this found in the Nova Scotia, News Brunswick, Newfoundland area.
    I was formally a cultural historian for 18 years, so I still enjoy researching things like this.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Tipper, we have never greased the nose for a birthday tradition but we do give a spanking for every year the birthday person has achieved. Then “a pinch to grow an inch and a smile to grow a mile.” The only time I have made butter was in 1976 when my Girl Scout Troop had created a Heritage Badge for the Bi-Centennial. We used a little glass jar with a dowel stuck down thru the lid and a tin can lid cut and bent, tacked to the end of the dowel for the dasher. We probably used a pint of cream. The girls in my troop had never made butter before either. My daugher just now reminded me that we didn’t know about putting salt in the butter so it tasted kind of bland. Everyone had a chance to work the dasher for a while and soon we had butter globs sticking to it. We poured the thin milk off and washed the butter and then tasted it. All decided we liked what came from the store best. I haven’t thought of that in years.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    August 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I have always preferred and loved “butter the cows made” — my young definition of the difference between fresh made butter and “store-bought”

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    What wonderful traditions to have. The only birthday tradition here is that the cake slices HAVE to be served on green Depression glass plates inherited from maternal grandmother.
    Hope everyone in NC, etc. stays safe and the hurricane doesn’t make land fall.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    When growing up at Needmore, NC we always had Milchows, hogs and chickens. The cows we had were Golden Guernseys so the cream would be a third of the way down on a gallon of milk so Mom would skim it off and we would churn almost every week in an old crock churn with a dasher while chanting “Come butter Come”, it was tedious work but the resulting butter was worth it and helped support the family as we sold butter and milk (fresh & Butter milk) to several neighbors. Hot biscuits, home made molasses went very well with it not to mention the Honey we harvested off our many hives of Bees. Thanks for helping keep the memories fresh.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    August 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    I never heard of the butter on the nose thing — but I did make butter day before yesterday, in my blender. I have a big 5 gallon electric churn I used to use but my son has it now…

  • Reply
    B f
    August 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    the butter …… yes i remember very well setting for (seemed like)
    hours with the old big churn and dasher and making that good old butter that they say now is so bad for one to eat , it sure beat this cooking oil and crisco . i wouldnt trade the taste of that butter for anything
    would love to go back to that time
    thanks for the memories

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Never heard of that tradition but I love making homemade butter like you did. Never tried it in a big churn. I wouldn’t know where to get an old fashioned one…

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    August 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    I haven’t heard of the “butter your nose” item, but it sounds fun. Tipper, if possible post your butter recipe. Might try it in my little processor.
    You come up with some of the bestest things! ( I know for you writer’s its not proper). :o)

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    August 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I remember my Grannie’s butter mold. It had a design of a flower and was about as big around as a coffee mug. I remember how good the butter was when you spread it on one of her cathead biscuits. I remember my mother making butter as well and letting me move the dasher up and down in the old churn. Sweet memories for sure!

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    no butter on my nose please, but I will accept whip cream… we have no tradtions

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Yes, I have churned, using the old-fashioned dash and crock churn; I have these, passed down from Mama. I wrote a post about this: “Homemade Butter”, May 17, 2011. Mama made a wonderful pie that she called a butter pie; very, very rich, but ohhh-so good!

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I can remember sparing mama with
    the churning. It took a lot of time to make butter in a churn,
    but like Jim said, you can’t beat
    the taste. Don’t know about butter
    on the nose, but I love getting it
    all over me when working an ear of
    Silver Queen like a typewriter.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    August 24, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I remember my Grandaddy churning on the front porch with an old ceder dasher churn. I got to make butter when Granny got one of the new fangled glass churns with the handle. I didn’t mind as I got to eat all the molasses and homemade butter with hot homemade bisquits that I wanted.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    August 24, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I churned alot of butter by hand growing up in Georgia. I still have mother’s churn and wooden top with the hole in it. I also have one of her grooved paddles but I believe all the molds are gone. She eventually got an electric churn, which I recall was a motor that fitted on top of our churn.
    Mother loved butter milk but I couldn’t drink it. The sweet milk as it sat in the refrigerator separated with the butter going to the top. I would always shake up the bottle to mix it up again into whole milk.
    My mother called skim milk “Blue John” which I suppose came from the blue tint some of it has.

  • Reply
    Elizabeth K
    August 24, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Definitely had the spanking tradition in our family, but never heard of butter on the nose – sounds like a fun tradition. Homemade butter is a lot of work, but definitely worth it.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    August 24, 2011 at 11:04 am

    I haven’t heard of that tradition ! I have churned butter both as a child and as an adult. it’s a great project to do with kids.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 24, 2011 at 10:46 am

    I’ve never made butter in a food processor, but plenty in a churn. It is a great meditation and I love the thought that I am putting all that energy into something special for my family.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    August 24, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I’ve never heard of that tradition either, but when I was a kid we always churned our own butter, and I was usually the one who got chosen to turn the crank. Our churn had a big glass jar that held about a gallon of cream when full (we hardly ever filled it clear up) and a screw-on top that had a crank that led through a pair of bevel gears to some interlocking wooden paddles in the jar. It seemed to me as a little kid that it took hors to finally have those little globs of butter start to appear, getting bigger and bigger and finally coming together in a big ball. My mom would then take over, pouring off the buttermilk, and getting the last of it out by pressing on the lump of butter with a wooden paddle about the size of a ping-pong paddle. Then the butter was salted lightly and put away in the icebox, and after we got one, the refrigerator. There was nothing better than the warm heel off of a loaf of fresh-baked bread well coated with some of that butter.

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

    We had a Jersey cow and made butter and shared cream with friends when I was young. Made the butter in a Daisy Churn. Still have the churn (and my Grandma’s butter bowl, ladle and butter mold0.
    Hadn’t heard of the ‘butter your nose’ tradition, but I agree with Wanda, sounds like a fun one.
    Here’s a butter recipe from Ag in the Classroom. It’s a fun way to have kids learn how to make butter.
    Butter Recipe
    One cup whipping cream at room temperature
    One small jar with secure lid (plastic cups with snap on lids work well, and reduce chance of broken glass)—(needs to be about the size of small baby food jars or pimento jars. or smaller if each student has own jar)
    One bowl
    One wooden spoon
    Pour whipping cream into the jar, and screw on the lid.
    Have students take turns shaking the jar vigorously for about ten minutes.
    Pour the buttermilk (bluish white liquid) and the butter (clumps of yellow fat) into the bowl.
    Pour off the buttermilk.
    Wash the butter with cold water.
    Press the butter against the side of the bowl, using the wooden spoon. Repeat the process until the water runs clean.
    Press all the excess water out of the butter.
    Sprinkle with salt to taste.

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Have never heard of that tradition. We did practice the spanking one.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    August 24, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I’ve never heard of putting butter on the nose–but it might be fun. Butter in a food processor? I can’t believe it! We didn’t always have a churn–I don’t know if they got broken or were just being used to pickle something–or to make “home brew”, but I have spent many an hour shaking a gallon jug trying to make butter. Mother did let me use the rocking chair. Times—how they change!

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    August 24, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Tipper: Never heard this one before now! That ‘sounds’ like what those wild Scotts would suggest for dodging trouble. You know those BAG PIPES said their hide when the Brits decided to whip em!
    Well sir, that making butter is just plain work. That was one of ‘my jobs’ at home – I think it was an easy task for my mama to put me to churning – to keep me out of trouble for a little while! Good luck if you try it!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I make butter in my food processor all the time. It always turns out good and doesn’t last long on my table! Never heard about butter on the nose before, kinda of a quirky tradition but it makes sense!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    August 24, 2011 at 9:44 am

    I have helped make butter…and churned in rhythm to a little ditty called “Churn butter Churn”…Then later years watched my Grandmothers electric churn, hmmming to a stop when the butter was thick…ha…they modernized the process…When I was a young girl and we moved to the city..The milkman delivered milk in glass bottles with the cream on top..Mom dipped it off and used it…Then low and behold we started getting butter and or margarine delivered..modernization..but wait we had to take a little package of coloring and color the stuff yellow..That was my job and it took a while to mix it up and then pat it in a glass mold Mom used.. Back then I always told my Granny that I made the butter at home!…ha
    Never heard of nose buttering…and we were a family of NC Scotch-Irish too…Did get the birthday spanking, bump or one to grow on…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 24, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I have churned butter a few times but it was a long time ago with my grandmother. It was like magic to me, as a young woman, to put milk into the churn and get butter back.
    Don’t know about greasing your nose on birthdays but I’m all for having all troubles slide away!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Tipper–One of countless fond memories from my childhood involves home-made butter. My Uncle Walter and Aunt Lillie lived just a few miles away, and during the summer I frequently had the opportunity to visit them and spend a night or two with their boys (both of whom were several years older than me, but not so much older that we didn’t enjoy playing, fishing, and just being boys together.
    They had cows and a standard practice in the gathering gloaming was for everyone to sit out on the porch. Some might be stringing and breaking beans, peeling peaches or apples, readying beans for stringing to make leather britches, or other chores. Everyone talked as they worked.
    My fondest memory though focuses on Aunt Lillie busy churning away. The butter which was the end product, pressed in a lovely wood mold and served with every meal, was so much better than store-bought stuff that they really can’t be compared.
    As for birthday traditions, I don’t remember much except Mom measured and weighed me (and, I think, recorded the results somehwere) for a number of years.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    August 24, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I’m from southern WV and lived during the “grease your nose” era. The good luck meaning got lost along the way, & it seemed everyone’s goal on their birthday was to avoid it. It became a game & once someone managed to “grease your nose” no one else tried, & props went to the person who managed to do the greasing. 🙂

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    August 24, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I haven’t heard about that tradition, but it seems like a fun one. Do you have a post on making butter? I’ve never made it but would like to try.

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