One place where the sauna is considered important is Finland. In this country, saunas are not seen as a luxury but a necessity. They are a vital part of Finnish culture and are found throughout the place. Finland has more than two million saunas or an average of one for every household. This is the area where people relax with friends and family to eliminate the physical and mental stresses of life.
That’s the reason why you can find saunas on the shores of Finland’s numerous lakes, in private apartments, corporate headquarters, and even at the Parliament. The Finnish Church in Rotherhithe, London, has its own sauna as well, while Finnish soldiers on peacekeeping missions are likewise famous for making saunas.
No one is certain when the Finns began using saunas but this custom was probably taken from the people of Russia and Sweden. Records of Finnish bathing habits were non-existent until the 16th century but we know for sure that the Finns were cleaning themselves in saunas every week when bathing was uncommon. Because of the sauna’s flexibility, sauna culture has emerged in Finland.
Traditionally, Saturday is sauna day in Finland. People first wash themselves and sit in a hot room warmed to 80-110 degrees Celsius. To make steam, water is splashed on the hot stones on top of a special stove. This produces a warm environment and increases the moisture and heat in the sauna. In other places in Finland, people gently beat themselves with leafy, fragrant boughs of silver birch to help tired muscles and minimize the effects of mosquito bites.
When the heat is no longer tolerable, natives jump into a lake, the sea or swimming pool or they simply take a shower. In the winter, some people roll in the snow or swim in a hole cut in the ice. After that, they sit in the dressing room or on the porch of the sauna to enjoy some sausage, beer or soft drinks. Once cooled, they go back to the hot room and begin the cycle again. Often people do this two or three times for 30 minutes to two hours. Sometimes the bathing continues throughout the night, especially in summer where darkness is almost absent. Since the sauna is a sacred place in Finland, it is considered rude to swear there. Often the conversation is relaxed and arguments and controversial topics are avoided. At times, men and women go to the sauna together but they may also do so separately.
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