What would you say to this proposition? You’re invited to go to a little wooden room that is heated to nearly 100°C and get naked with the rest of your group, where you will sit sweating our your impurities, cooling off occasionally with a roll in the snow or dip in a frozen lake (while still naked), and eating and drinking in between. In other words, you’re invited to experience the Finnish sauna!
“Stop being so American today,” Tim joked to me.
We were traveling with a small group of people we had only known for a few days in Finnish Lapland and the evening activities involved dinner and Finnish sauna. I spent an entire afternoon stressing out about exactly what was going to happen because, first, a little something was lost in transition and it sounded like we were having dinner in the sauna. Second, American as it may be, I was not okay getting naked with people I still had to spend several days with.
There are just over 5 million people living in Finland and there are an estimated 2 million saunas in the country. To say the Finnish sauna is essential to understanding the culture would be an understatement. In the old days, saunas were a practical place for Finns to wash when there was no hot running water during the long, cold winters. Finnish saunas are considered sterile places, and we heard a story or two of people even being born in saunas. There is even a Finnish Sauna Society, founded in 1937, that preserves the tradition of the native sauna culture.
I would never be admitted as a member. Luckily, my worries that had quickly made sauna a stressful experience instead of a relaxing one were unfounded. As our group sat down to the buffet dinner, we discussed what everyone would be comfortable with. We decided the guys and girls would go to sauna separately and I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
A typical weekend night consists of a buffet spread much like ours with different types of fish, some reindeer, salad, and maybe a pot of salmon soup. You eat and drink a little, go to the sauna, take a dip in the lake or river (or roll in the snow when the ice becomes thin and unsafe), return to the sauna, and then repeat it all.
The five of us girls decided we’d go in our towels and did have a relaxing sauna experience as we all bonded and dished what we never would amongst the men. The men, according to Tim, bared it all. In between, we all sat around in our towels eating and drinking.
When on a group tour with LappOne as we were, the group always discusses what will be comfortable for everyone and it varies from group to group. I only wish the communication about that would have been a bit better because then I wouldn’t have had an entire afternoon being stressed.
So, back to the question I started this post off with. Would you bare it all in the Finnish sauna?
Our time in Finland and Sweden was hosted by LappOne, who offers a variety of holidays to Lapland. As always, all opinions are entirely our own.