Finland’s National Culture: Sauna

About the author of this post: Hi, my name is Suvi and I am a Tourism and Hospitality Management student at Lapland University of Applied Sciences. I am half Finnish, but I grew up in Germany. So far, I have only embraced my German culture and that’s why I decided to study in Rovaniemi. For me, a dream came true by moving to Finnish Lapland; I finally got the chance to not only get to know my Finnish culture but also experience Finland’s vast and beautiful nature on a daily basis.

Even though I am half Finnish, I grew up in Germany and only learned the German way of life. Finally, it was time for me to embrace my Finnish heritage. Thus, I decided to move to not only the land of a thousand lakes but also a million saunas.

Truth be told, even after 1 ½ years of living in Finland, I am still amazed by the somewhat strange Finnish traditions. It turns out, Finland is so much more than just a winter wonderland where Santa Claus resides; it is the country where the sauna culture has been perfected. In other words, the Finns made saunas part of their national heritage. Needless to say, this strange, yet interesting part, of Finland’s national culture still amazes me. And as there is nothing more Finnish than the sauna, taking part in sauna experiences the only way to truly understand the Finnish way of life

Traditional finnish sauna

Traditional Finnish wooden sauna with sauna bucket, ladle and vihta/vasta. Picture source: Kluvich, Suvi-Anna (2016)

Saunas in Finland

In fact, there are almost as many saunas in Finland as there are people. In other words, saunas can be found almost everywhere and in every shape and form. There are, for instance, wooden, smoke, electric and ice saunas. The Finns, however, prefer the traditional smoke ones. So far, each Finnish house and apartment building I have visited had at least one. And with each house and apartment building I literally mean every building even the ones that are made out of ice such as the Arctic Snow Hotel in Rovaniemi.

One might think that the abundance of saunas can be traced back to Finland’s long and harsh winters. It turns out, that this is not always the case. Finns, for instance, use their saunas all year long and as such even in the warm summer months. So, what is it about the Finns and their saunas?

Autumn in Pohtimo

Finnish Lapland’s vast and beautiful nature during the short, yet beautiful, autumn season. Picture source: Kluvich, Suvi-Anna (2016)

Finnish Sauna and Wellbeing

Needless to say, Finns and their saunas are more or less inseparable.

In other words, sauna sessions are held on a regular basis and are of great importance to Finnish people of all age groups. For my Finnish mother, for instance, the first few years in Germany were challenging because she had to go without her beloved sauna culture.

As for me, growing up in Germany with a Finnish mother who always longed for her Finnish sauna culture made me aware of its many benefits. Hence from a very early age, I learned that going to the sauna on a regular basis is good for everyone. It is beneficial to one’s mental as well as physical health. In other words, sauna sessions can help cleanse both body and soul. Also, it is a place to relax.

Besides, back in Germany I was often asked whether it’s true that Finnish people hit each other with a bouquet of branches after going to the Sauna. It turns out they do. In fact, these bouquets of birch branches are called vihta/ vasta and lightly swatting each other with them is very good for the skin. In other words, by using these so-called vihtas or vastas the blood circulation gets stimulated which then results in smooth skin. As a reminder, it depends on the region in Finland what these bouquets of branches are actually called. In East Finland, as an example, people solely use the word vasta.

finnish sauna accesory

Vihta or Vasta: traditional Finnish sauna accessory. Picture source: Kluvich, Suvi-Anna (2016)

Finns and Saunas

Finns, in general, are considered to be shy. I, on the other hand, have gotten to know so many outgoing and talkative Finnish people since my move to Rovaniemi. Nonetheless, an elevator ride or a bus ride is usually very quiet. Surprisingly, a visit to a Finnish sauna not only helps experiencing Finnish culture in a genuine way but also helps understanding the Finns. It turns out that the best way to get to know Finnish people’s personal stories is by shedding one’s clothes and by joining them in their sauna session.

Overall, the sauna is a place to relax and socialize.

Also, sauna sessions are beneficial for one’s mental as well as physical health. Thus, it is only fitting that Finns made saunas part of their national culture. Subsequently, if somebody wants to truly experience and understand Finnish way of life, they have to understand what sauna is.

Author: Lapland Safaris

This is the blog of Lapland Safaris, which is a company specialized in all sort of activities in Finnish Lapland both in winter and in summertime. In winter we enjoy snowmobiling, husky and reindeer-sledge rides, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing among other things. During the summer we cruise on river boats, visit the reindeer and husky farms, and hike in the forests. Do you have questions? Ask us anything in the comments of this post. We will be happy to help you!

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1 Comment

  1. Super Suvi
    Ist ein interessanter Artikel
    Liebe Grüße
    Micha

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