Sweat bathing in Finland
Ok fine, let’s finally talk about Sauna. What is a sauna, why is a sauna, why do we have more saunas in Finland than we have cars? Let’s get to the bottom of this bottomless, and topless, obsession of Finns.
Sauna is a room where you sit naked in unbearable heat, yes you have to be naked, with your friends and/or family or even strangers next to you, and try to relax with bunch of naked sweaty people way too close to your naked ass. It’s super fun.
Technically speaking, a sauna is a wood panel room with wooden benches, and a fireplace, or a stove, with stones on top of it, in a central position. Nowadays due to fire regulations and other things, maybe practicality since it does take a long time to heat up a wooden sauna, many saunas are electric, at least in apartment buildings. The stove heats up the top stones and you throw water on them, to get steam. A lot of hot steam, to enjoy and to burn your naked pale Finnish skin. The temperature in a sauna is very high, and the humidity from steam is what makes the heat bearable, so you don’t get cooked. Steamed, not grilled.
Historically speaking, sauna has been around for a long time. The oldest known saunas in Finland were made from pits dug in the ground. My mother still uses a sauna like this in her garden every summer, there was a fire that destroyed the dug-in-sauna, but she re-built it. One could presume that saunas were very important in Finland before electricity and central heating, since it’s so damn cold out here most of the year. Need something to warm us up. And also, need somewhere bacteria free and clean, and where you can easily boil water, to give birth in. A sauna was the primary place for giving birth in the elder days. Now we mostly use hospitals like civilized people.
But why do we sauna? Because we love our naked traditions, as you can see from the popularity of Midsummer Night folk magic. Because it’s relaxing, to finally get time to sit down and breath (in the hot steamy air), to take a break from the outside world. A sauna is a place where the worries of the world cannot enter. Going in to a sauna, we strip not just our clothes but also our problems and discomforts. We leave them outside and take time for ourselves. In a sauna you don’t fight, you don’t yell, you don’t make scenes, and you certainly don’t have sex in a sauna, there’s a high risk of heart attack in that. You’re naked and peaceful, and then you whip yourselves sore with tree branches. To cast out the pains and aches and evil spirits.
A Finns dream is a lake shore sauna, where you can spend most of your summer night. Slow-cooking yourself, then going for a swim to cool down, or sitting on a bench outside the sauna, dressed in only a towel barely covering your private parts (if you happen to find yourself in this situation with Finnish men, take special care to not have your eyes at the same level as the bench the Finns are sitting on. They will be manspreading with only towels on and you might see some disturbing things, I still have nightmares of this mistake I made when I was just a child myself, just the right height to see some horrible things…). And having a nice cold beer. A Finnish beer. We don’t take kindly to fancy foreign things.
What about the part where we said we have more saunas than cars? It’s true, according to something seen in the internet. We have talked about fact checking before, stop bugging us about it.
The writer of this story is a member of the Mom of Finland community.
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