Having provided the setting for many visual gags over the years, it is small wonder the Finnish sauna has such a comedic reputation with the English. Perhaps it is the prospect of group nakedness that makes the average Briton’s stiff upper lip quiver with fear and lessens its appeal to the ‘gentlefolk’ of this reserved isle. Yet this one word “sauna” has, by some remarkable feat of linguistic cunning and guile, hopped on over from Finland and slipped, casually and unashamedly, into the English Dictionary.
As we delve into the origins of this ingenious invention, we begin to understand why the sauna has become as necessary a room in the Finnish household as the kitchen or bedroom.
For thousands of years, the sauna has served to cleanse, relax and purify the body and mind. The ritual begins in a wooden room, heated by hot stones that emit steam when water is poured upon them, and ends with a cold bath or an individual beating the body lightly with birch twigs. The sauna is present in over 3.3 million Finnish homes, offices, leisure centres and even mines. Besides offering much needed comfort after a day’s work among the elements, the Finnish Sauna is a place to relax and meditate alone or with friends and family.
The Finns approach the use of saunas with a reverence that most adhere only to places of worship. Saunas are so clean that women choose to give birth in them and people seek to be made well in them. In fact, many claim the Finnish sauna to be the “poor man’s pharmacy”. The logic in this is quite apparent as the steaming opens pores, purging the body of toxins.
Much like the British dinner party, some conversations are considered out of bounds within the confines of the Finnish sauna, including politics, religion and work, and mobile phones are a definite no-no. Relatives, young and old have no qualms about sharing a sauna and the Finns believe this attitude promotes healthy body image for both sexes.
As an integral part of Finnish culture, the sauna must be experienced if you want to fully understand the country and its people. So, put your best foot forward chaps and leave your hang ups (and clothes) at the door: Finnish saunas are here to stay.
To experience the wonders of the Finnish sauna for yourself, take a look at the Mighty Fine Company’s amazing selection of holidays in Finland.