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The Rich Tradition of Sauna Culture: Part 1

The Rich Tradition of Sauna Culture: Part 1

Nordic countries and sauna culture have a longstanding relationship, encompassing health, friendship, and relaxation. Saunas are found in public places and private homes, considered a necessary part of life with numerous benefits. This article explores sauna beliefs and usage in several Nordic countries.

Saunas originated in rural Finland, with the word "sauna" being of Finnish origin. The roots of sauna use may trace back to 7000 BC, explaining why most Finns have grown up using saunas regularly. In fact, Finland has so many saunas that there is approximately one sauna for every two people. They are ubiquitous in homes, corporate offices, and on the shores of Finnish lakes. For Finns, saunas are a necessity, not a luxury.

In Finland, saunas are used for mental and physical health benefits, holiday traditions, giving birth, socializing, or finding inner peace. In December 2020, the Finnish sauna was added to the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list, highlighting its integral role in Finnish life.

Sauna culture is also thriving in Norway. Norwegians see saunas as places for socializing and relaxation, connecting to nature and fitting well into the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv, or "fresh air life." Many Norwegians believe regular sauna sessions strengthen communal bonds and connect them to their roots. In Norway, saunas, known as badstue, are found throughout cities and in countryside cabins. Unlike Finland, Norwegian saunas typically have a slightly cooler temperature, focusing on relaxation and enjoying the company of others.

In Denmark, saunas are not as popular but can be found in some homes and at public swimming pools. In Sweden, sauna culture, or bastu, is quite similar to Finland’s, integrated into Swedish life and used for similar reasons. The Swedish embrace of sauna culture is evident in their frequent visits to public saunas, especially during the long, cold winters. Saunas provide a warm, inviting escape from the harsh weather, making them a cherished tradition.

If you want to visit a public sauna in a Nordic country, a quick internet search will reveal numerous options. One tradition to know before visiting a Nordic sauna is the practice of alternating hot and cold temperatures by plunging into cold water or "bathing" in the snow. Could you do it? Share your experience with sauna culture in the comments below.

Note: There is much more to say about sauna culture, so watch for Part 2.

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