Kéményseprők – Chimney Sweeps
The need for kéményseprők (chimney sweeps) greatly increased with the use of coal to heat homes during the Industrial Age. The burning coal caked chimneys with soot, thus creating an unhealthy environment. Also, soot buildup could catch fire, and set the whole house ablaze. Consequently, it had to be removed regularly.
Kéményseprők were employed throughout Hungary well beyond the Industrial Age. In Budapest, even in the mid-1950’s, it was very common to spot a kéményseprő walking, carrying a ladder and a long brush dangling from a long coiled wire over his shoulder.
During the summer, less coal was used, for it was not needed for heating homes. Instead, it was primarily used when cooking or baking. People often had their chimneys cleaned during the summer months.
The job of a kéményseprő was hazardous. The task of cleaning a chimney presented danger, for there was very little space inside. It was not uncommon for a kéményseprő to get stuck in a chimney, creating great peril. In addition, soot was a carcinogen and after a while, left long- scarring effects on the chimney sweep.
However, with the removal of the grimy soot, clean air returns to one’s home. Hungarians believe a kéményseprő brings good luck. Upon seeing one, a person would superstitiously twirl a button three times and recite, "Kéményseprőt látok, szerencsét találok” (I see a chimney sweep, I find luck). Furthermore, welcoming the New Year with a kéményseprő is thought to bring good luck for the coming year.
Nowadays, representatives of the municipal chimney sweep service –wearing their traditional top hat – pay a ceremonial visit to the Hungarian President on New Year’s Day to wish him – and by extension, the nation – good luck for the upcoming year. At that time, the President pulls one bristle from the chimney sweeps’ broom to insure good fortune.
Gas – a cleaner energy source – replaced coal used for heating around the 1960’s. Soot is not a big problem as it once was, although burning wood in fireplaces is just as sooty. But it is not as common as in days gone by to see a kéményseprő today. The profession has changed some, as better equipment has been developed. But should one need a kéményseprő, the internet will provide a list of businesses readily available!