Finnish Sauna Culture

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A true culture of sauna

When talking about Finland you must have heard stories about a hot room: the sauna, and how the Finns scorch themselves there – at least most of them.  For us Finns it is a place to relax both the body and mind. In this article, you will learn everything about the Finnish sauna culture!

The history of sauna

Did you know that there are three million saunas in Finland? Since our population is 5,5 million every Finn could take a sauna bath at the same time! The Finnish sauna culture and all traditions go back almost ten thousand years, right after the last glacial period. The most primitive sauna type was a cave in the ground, which had a heated pile of stones. The pit was covered with an animal skin.  The logic was the same as nowadays, one throws water onto hot stones to create heat and steam. Clever!

Religion and sauna

In the past there were lots of different beliefs and norms about sauna. Sauna was a sacred place and sauna bath had also a strong religious meaning. To be able to purify both body and soul one needed to behave with respect in the sauna. That meant no shouting, laughing, singing, crying or swearing. The sauna was also a place where women gave birth, healers and seers healed the sick and the dead were washed for their last journey to afterlife. Some rituals were also related to different rites like birth, and year cycle feasts like Christmas or Summer solstice.

Sauna at our cottage with candles, alll what you need to experience the true Finnish sauna culture
Sauna time is all about relaxing
Sauna stones and candle
Sauna stove stones

Finnish Sauna Traditions

Although most of the beliefs are now forgotten, both bridal and Summer solstice sauna rituals still live strong. Correctly performed jingles and spells in sauna, before the wedding day, should guarantee a happy and long marriage. Usually this happens during a bachelorette party. For example: the bride had to run around the sauna building as many times as she had had boyfriends and on every round shout out loud a name of each ex-boyfriend (to get rid of all the old loves haunting).

If you are single you might try other spells during Midsummer sauna bath to help you to find a summer valentine or love for the rest of your life. For example in the course of Midsummer sauna bathing walk backwards towards a pile of logs. The type of log your bottom hits first tells you what kind of a spouse you will find. If the log is split you will get a taken lover or a widow. If the log is whole you will find your very own spouse. Christmas sauna bath has longer traditions than anything else. The tradition started before Christianity. First it was Winter solstice celebration. Everyone stopped working, a festive dinner was made and the day was topped off with purifying sauna bath.

A sauna elf, part of the Finnish sauna culture
Sauna elves used to have a big role in Finnish sauna traditions

For many sauna used to be a scary place too because of it’s somewhat supernatural powers. People believed that in every sauna there lived a sauna elf or spirits. Sauna elves protected the sauna and its owners. A sauna elf also made sure that people behaved well in the sauna. People used to give the elves gifts like food or drink. So next time you take a sauna bath remember at least to greet the elf when entering the sauna and also give him the last steams.

Sauna elf
Sauna elf wants to get the last steams.

There are many types of different saunas nowadays. For example a wood-heated sauna (the traditional one), electric heated sauna, sauna made of ice cubes, tent sauna, sauna boat, barrel sauna, smoke sauna, steam sauna, infrared sauna, just to name a few. Which would you like to experience?

You may have heard rumours of people who are “beating” each other in the sauna with a bundle of branches? Well it is true, but we do it with a special made bunch of young birch twigs.  In the western part of Finland that bundle is called “vihta”. In the eastern parts it’s called “vasta”. The younger the leaves are the better, so the best vihta is made in June.  Unfortunately this tradition is getting increasingly less common. When I was a kid my grandpa taught me to make a vihta myself.

The benefits of sauna

Studies show that sauna has health benefits: it improves blood circulation, improves peripheral circulation, reduces swelling, all dirt and sweat will be washed away by swatting with vihta, it releases dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, steam softens your skin, muscles relax, it reduces stress and it helps people fall asleep. It really is natural healing!

How to sauna

I have been often asked by our guests what a normal temperature for me in the sauna would be. My go-to sauna temperature lies between 80-85 degrees Celcius, depending on the type of the sauna. Believe it or not, but my grandpa used to warm the sauna up to 100 degrees Celcius! And then he was swatting himself furiously with a vihta. But remember to be careful if you are taking a sauna bath for the first time ever! Start with low temperatures like 50-60 degrees Celcius and pour only a small amount of water onto the hot stones. Go out often to cool down and drink lots of water. And last but not least enjoy the easing effects afterwards.

Hyviä löylyjä – pleasant steams!

Emilia from Aurora Holidays

Ps. You will find an electric heated sauna in every one of our cottages so you can experience by yourself a true Finnish sauna culture!

The inside of one of Aurora Holidays saunas
Every Aurora Holidays cottage has its own private electric heated sauna.

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