Historically the sauna has been considered a sacred place, where our ancestors were born and died. The biggest decisions between families and the greatest disputes between villages was settled in the sauna. Even today every holiday and special day starts with sauna with family and friends: Christmas sauna, New Year’s sauna, Easter sauna, wedding sauna, birthday sauna… well you get the point.
Did you know:
-There are over 3 million saunas in Finland, which means over one per every two Finns.
-The first Finnish saunas can be tracked back to the beginning of the bronze age 1500 B.C.
-Sauna is an ancient Finnish word, which meant a sweat-hole in the ground.
SAUNA IS A PLACE OF EQUALITY
Sauna is a place of true equality, where the president can sit next to you start chatting about how the stove is built. We leave everything outside the sauna: our occupation, our status, our past, our position in the society and of course our clothes.
HOW TO BATHE IN A SAUNA THE PROPER FINNISH WAY?
The short answer is: Come as you are.
The longer version: You heat the room up to 70–120 degrees Celsius, depending on your heat resistance. You take your clothes off and sit down on wooden benches with friends and strangers on your naked behind. For the timider of you, it’s ok to come wrapped up in a towel. In most public saunas, however swimming suits are not allowed (In our One Day in Helsinki cottage and sauna experience, this is totally up to you…).
In public saunas, the most experienced sauna-masters typically sit in the highest benches and take the place next to the water bucket near the stove, thus silently declaring him/herself as the official water-thrower. If you are a first-timer, don’t be too eager to throw the water onto the stove or you might hear some angry grunts of disapproval from the sauna-veterans in the upper seats. If you are unsure, ask for permission before throwing the water.
After an enjoyable time of heat and sweat, you go outside and chill. There are many ways to get chilled: jumping into the lake, into the sea, into the frozen lake, into the frozen sea, into the ice hole, rolling in the snow or just hanging out on the terrace.
When we feel pleasantly chilled, we often grab a “sauna-beer” on the terrace. It’s custom to sit outside, take a long sip of beer and produce a long sigh, coming from deep inside, and say: Ei se tästä parane (It doesn’t get any better than this).
Then we go back in. Essentially, we just repeat this sauna-chilling-beer-sighing routine until we have forgotten every worry and everything that is unimportant in our life. At best you can expect to reach a trans-like relaxed state of mind and the sighs start coming out of you naturally.
If booze, tar and sauna won’t cure, then it’s the grave for you.
(Jos ei viina, terva ja sauna auta, niin odottaa hauta.)
– Old Finnish saying
When we go to a sauna near the woods, we like to collect a bunch of birch branches and tie them together to make a “vihta” (or “vasta”… there is a never-ending debate as to which word is the right one; our advice to visitors is never to get in the middle of that argument). We use the bundle of branches to hit ourselves and each other with (it sounds strange, but it feels great).
You start by hitting your back, then you work your way around to your ribs and belly, then the legs and arms. You continue until there are no leaves left on the branches, or until you’ve had enough. We often ask a fellow sauna-bather to do the whipping for us, so we can just enjoy the relaxing effect.
It’s not uncommon to spend several hours doing these various sauna activities. Finally, we decide to take a last shower or swim with soap and finish the ritual with a last beer. Believe it or not, but at this point you will feel like a champion. And you’re ready to take on the world.
There is only one ground rule: Respect the sauna, respect the fellow bathers.
”The one who produces the heat, shall endure the heat.”
(In Finnish: “Se joka löylyn heittää, se löylyn kestäköön.”)
This means, if you throw water on the stove, you must sit on the upper bench until the heat wears out.
Some like to put beer on the stove (the proper way is to add a little beer in the scoop with water) to fill the sauna with great malty aroma. But this is not okay with everybody and some public saunas forbid this. So, if you want to do it, you must ask your fellow bathers for permission.
Löyly is the heat from when you throw water on the hot stones and it evaporates to hot steam.
Kiuas is the stove with the stones, which are heated with electricity or fire.
Kiulu is the vessel containing the water thrown on the stones.
Löylykauha is the scoop which is used to throw water on the stove.
Löylynheittäjä is the person who throws the water and produces the heat.
Lauteet are the wooden benches we sit on.
Vilvoitella is a verb, which means chilling outside after the heat.
Saunakalja is the beer that you have during or/and after bathing.
Vihtominen is to whip yourself (or getting whipped) with a bunch of birch branches.
Vihta/vasta is the the bunch of birch branches.
Written by One Day in Helsinki & Co.