Finnish sauna culture has been added to UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) list of intangible cultural heritage elements on December 17th, 2020.
This project brings visibility to different types of heritages, supporting the continuity of them. This is the first Finnish tradition included on the list and for sure, it will bring more awareness to our massive sauna culture.
Approaching Christmas means traditional sauna for many Finns. Many have traditions, and even rituals you could say, around the preparations getting ready for sauna. Often, these rituals get passed on from one generation to another. Sauna is a place where to calm the mind, and back in the old days, you were not even allowed to talk in sauna. Sauna cleanses you, physically as well as mentally. Every Finn is an expert of sauna, since we all have our own ways, and sauna is meant to be enjoyed just the way you like it.
There are many different kinds of saunas and everyone has their favorite. The smoke sauna takes longer heating time, and you have to make sure the sauna is safe to breathe in before entering. Saunas that are heated by wood are commonly seen at the summer cottages by the lakes. And it is extremely relaxing to jump into the warm lake to cool down in midsummer or jump into the hole in the ice during the dark winter months to improve the blood circulation. Electric saunas are more commonly seen in smaller apartments and even though it might be faster to heat up, it still takes about an hour for the entire sauna space to warm up. You can find saunas shaped like barrels, built on boats, or on a trailer so you can move them from one place to another. When visiting the capital of Finland, Helsinki, you can still visit public saunas like Sauna Arla in Kallio area, or Harjun Sauna on Harjukatu. Löyly is located near Eira and this newer, more modern version of the traditional public sauna offers an amazing sauna experience to Finns as well as to the tourists visiting. Löyly combines the sauna tradition with good food, spending time together and amazing views. It is also architecturally magnificent, and it has become a well-known attraction in Helsinki.
No matter what shape the sauna is, or if it fits two or twenty people, the sauna itself has the same effect on people. It supports well-being. You can meditate in sauna, calm your mind and forget all the stress the day might have had. Sauna has mental benefits, and on top of that, it has physical benefits as well. Sauna.fi has an extensive list of these benefits and here are few:
Sauna lessens stress
It improves blood circulation and blood pressure
The skin gets exfoliated
Helps with asthma and breathing problems commonly seen with flu
Faster recovery after extensive athletic performance
Finns do love their saunas and there are over 3 million of them in the country (whereas there is little over 5 million Finns). Expats are always on the lookout for a place where to throw some water onto the rocks and to relax in the heat. You can find many kinds of saunas all over the United States and the Finnish tradition is slowly and steadily expanding. Midnight Sun Festival event was organized in March 2020 in Lake Worth and one of the biggest attractions was the traveling barrel sauna. Unfortunately, the festival has been rescheduled from spring 2021 to 2022 due to the pandemic and hopefully by that time we get to enjoy nice warm sauna again. However, if you don’t have the patience to wait for that, sauna can be built in the backyard, and if the HOA doesn’t approve, a smaller electric sauna can be assembled in the basement, or even in the guest room.
If I would have a sauna, I would take my birch vihta from the freezer, I would spread some sauna honey on my face, place couple of sausages in foil wrap to warm up on the rocks and I would just relax. These would be my intangible cultural heritage elements of sauna that I would like to pass on. What would be yours?
Sauna Culture in Finland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLNVP1rPGLk
We wish you all peaceful Christmas time and relaxing sauna moments!
Ps. Did you know that the official Finnish Sauna day is celebrated in June? Right around the corner of Midsummer, which is the second biggest day for sauna besides Christmas.