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Monday, January 2, 2012

The Chimney Sweep

There is a little fellow who has been greeting me each morning. He sweeps away soot and sorrow and in its place brings forth a clean and shiny new day.

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Germany is famous for her overflowing abundance of flora and fauna and while living there I noticed that the week after Christmas every supermarket and garden shop would stock plants and bouquets into which a tiny figure, dressed all in black, would nestle in.

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I had no idea what this meant so I asked my good German friend and neighbor, Andrea, to fill me in. She explained that the Schornsteinfeger (chimney sweep) was a symbol of good luck. 

The sweeps are often paired with pigs, a symbol of prosperity. There is a saying “Schwein gehabt” which loosely translates to “Good luck is at hand”. 

Throughout Europe there are many lucky tokens such as the horseshoe, four leaf clover, bags of gold and the red and white Amanita muscaria mushroom. It is referred to as  a “gluckpilz” which translates as the “lucky mushroom”.

So I began saving the once a year treats, bought a German Schornsteinfeger smoker (which I shared way back in December of 2008) but my favorite find was the sweep I found for one Euro at a German flea market.

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He stands less than 2  1/2” tall. A china treasure that fits into the palm of my hand.

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His sweet cherubic face always brings a smile to mine.

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But a childlike chimney sweep? Yes, indeed.

Centuries ago when there were no child labor laws and sadly, too many paupers and orphans for a parish church to handle, children were apprenticed to master sweeps as young as the age of 6. They were prized for their small size as they could shimmy up and down a very small flue. If a climbing boy was lucky he would make it all the way to age 18 and then he himself would become a master sweep.

The chimney sweeps primary job is to rid the flue of built up ash and soot. Many countries now have mandatory laws as to how often a flue must be cleaned. In Germany it is twice a year. If Thomas Farynor, a baker on Pudding Lane, had been as attentive to his flue the Great Fire of London in 1666 would not have occurred.

While the profession was once considered to be positioned on the lowest of ladders, the sweeps took pride in their appearance. Here, a Parisian sweep stands proudly with all his accoutrements.

The sweep has been paid tribute to in the great William Blake poem and many wonderful works of art.

Chimney Sweep~ Frans Wilhelm Odelmark, 1880

Child Chimney Sweep in Snow~ Paul Seignac, 1876

Chimney Sweep ~ Firs Zhuravlev, 1901

And of course, our favorite chimney sweep, Bert, forever immortalized in song.

Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim cher-ee, chim cher-oo,


1 comment :

Shawn Graber said...

I loved learning more about chimney sweeps through this article. Excellent writing!

This may be a strange request, but may I borrow the photo of the little chimney sweep boy (the one in the checkered pants) for an advertisement I'm making for my family business? I'm not quite sure what copyrights are in place. Is the photo your property?