The sauna is one of the most iconic cultural staples of the Nordic region. Invented in Finland, the sauna has been a way to relax and bathe for over 2,000 years. The first recorded saunas were dug into embankments on the sides of hills and were actually often used as dwelling places. In the heart of nordic winters, a hot room to stay in could be the difference between life and death.
Today, the sauna, and the concept of it, has spread across the world. From the United States to Japan, you can find saunas in spas and gyms everywhere. However, to this day in the Nordics, the sauna is more than a room to unwind in after a workout. The sauna is a way of life, and something they enjoy recreationally almost daily. Let’s talk about the sauna culture of the Nordics.
Imagine a place in which nearly every house has a sauna right by the shower. Where every day you can relax in a steam room, and rinse off with brisk cold water without even leaving your own home. This is an actual reality for the people of the Nordic nation of Finland. In Finland, there are estimated to be more than 2 million saunas (in a nation of only 5 million people). This prevalence in the culture says something about the way that Finns view sauna. For Finns, the sauna is something that is an integral part of their day to day life. Many Finns will enjoy sauna multiple times a week, if not daily. However, this connection with the sauna extends beyond the home.
The concept of public saunas is extremely prevalent as well. No matter if it is in the middle of summer, or the dead of winter, the sauna is something that will be enjoyed. Typically situated beside a lake, Finns make the trek to the saunas and enjoy the heat and steam while also offsetting it with cool swims in the lakes. Yes, even if they must chip away the ice, Finns will swim in the lakes between sauna sessions. This concept might seem odd to those who aren’t accustomed to it.
The Sauna Art & history
In fact, many foreigners state that they find the whole thing to be far more ritualistic than they anticipated. For the Finns, the sauna is something to be enjoyed for hours on end, typically with a saunaolut (sauna beer), and some makkara (grilled sausage). Sauna is so beloved by the Finnish people, that the language even has a word for the act of throwing water on the hot stones to create steam (löyly). So what does this all equate to? Well, in Finland, there are very few things that Finns are more proud of than the sauna.
It is their far-reaching and beloved gift to the world. It is something that they enjoy with friends, with family, and with their communities. This love for the sauna can be found across the Nordics, as well. In Sweden, you will also find plenty of love or the steam box (bastu). However, no one enjoys the hot stones and steamy atmosphere quite like the Finns. So, when you find yourself in the far northern country of Finland, prepare to sweat. It’s certain that no matter where you go, or where you stay, a sauna will be hot and waiting for you with a cold beer and a charming Finn.