Informant is a 23 year old woman from Salt Lake City, Utah.
“My family has a tradition that, especially when the men in the family get haircuts, or, I suppose those with shorter hair, there is a space in the back of the neck – at the nape of the neck – with freshly shorn or buzzed hair that you rub it and it not only gives a delightful tickling sensation but its said to give good luck if it is done before the close of the day in which someone got the haircut. But its not only applicable to men. The only rule is that the hair had to be cut the same day.”
She does not remember who initiated this tradition, and says that it has been ‘ever present’ in her life. She supposes that it probably came from her mother initially.
This custom could be seen as a form of Contagious folk magic. The luck of the person with the hair cut travels via the nape of their neck to anyone who rubs it that day.
This folk item could be interpreted that the person whose hair was just cut has been lucky (they have been ‘beautified’), and by rubbing their neck, the family member could hope for future luck, in looks or otherwise, for themselves. A more likely interpretation however is that this folk item is used as an aid to a social interaction that can sometimes become awkward. Whenever someone changes their appearance, especially if it is only a slight change, socially awkward or tricky situations can occur. If the change is slight enough (ex. a man with already short hair gets a trim) there is the chance that people will not notice. Having a situation where someone offers you the nape of their neck to rub lessens the potential for a faux pas by making it clear that they recently got a haircut. It also, significantly, creates a socially acceptable scenario for a the hair-cutee to seek for and receive compliments on their new look without seeming vain, all under the guise that they are innocently offering their family member good luck through post-haircut neck rubbing.
When asked how she feels about this tradition and how she interprets it, she said:
“I think no one is laboring under the delusion that your luck would actually change one way or the other but it brings some sort of celebration of change and marking of moving forward, and your upkeep of your appearance as well as marking a period of time until your next haircut. It’s a good unifier, it’s a good tradition to have.”