Five minutes into my investigation of Finnish saunas at the Helsinki Airport on my way back to Stockholm, I realize I clearly did not do my research about this national cultural tradition before coming here. Some fun factoids I learned about the Finnish sauna experience - enjoy!
- The very word ‘sauna’ is Finnish; some records have sauna usage in Finland going back to the 5th century (at a time when other Europeans hardly ever bathed, Finns were using saunas at least once a week)
- Wearing anything or carrying a towel into a sauna is bad form, yet saunas have no association to sex and are considered one of the most holy places (no swearing allowed, or else the sauna elf / saunatonttu may be offended…)
- There is one sauna for every 2.5 Finns - over 2 million in the country, more than the number of cars, this is ridiculous
- Saunas can be found on vacation homes, in private apartments (including my friend Iikka’s), offices, and even at Parliament and 1500 feet below ground in a mine
- Saunas can reach temperatures of 100°C The relatively dry nature of the heat (water poured on hot stones) prevents the heat from scalding the bathers
- Women used to give birth in the sauna because it was warm and sterile. Unrelatedly, successful business negotiations are often celebrated with a sauna
- People often sit in the sauna in silence. When they get bored of this, they beat themselves lightly with fragrant birch branches
- When people start getting uncomfortable with the heat of a sauna, they either (as available) jump in a cold lake or a hole in the ice or roll in the snow. Eating a sausage and drinking beer and/or a shot of a vodka-like Finnish spirit are also typical. After all this, they often go back into the sauna, rinse and repeat
Now you know, and now I need to go back to Finland.
UPDATE: Saunas may be found in areas with high Finnish populations - Northern Minnesota, Northern Wisconsin, and the U.P. of Michigan,