Finnish sauna

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The Finnish sauna is a substantial part of Finnish culture. There are five million inhabitants and over two million saunas in Finland - an average of one per household. For Finnish people the sauna is a place to relax in with friends and family, and a place for physical and mental relaxation as well. Finns think of saunas not as a luxury, but as a necessity. Before the rise of public health care and nursery facilities, almost all Finnish mothers gave birth in saunas.

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Origins of the sauna

The sauna in Finland is such an old phenomenon that it is impossible to trace its roots. Bath houses were recorded in Europe during the same time period, but Finnish bathing habits were hardly documented until the 16th century.[citation needed] Because of the years of habitation and variant rule by Russia and Sweden, it is possible that the sauna custom evolved from them. It was during the Reformation in Scandinavia that the popularity of saunas expanded to other countries because the European bath houses were being destroyed. Hundreds of years ago, when bathing was something to be done only rarely or never at all, Finns were cleaning themselves in saunas at least once a week.

One reason the sauna culture has always flourished in Finland has been because of the versatility of the sauna. When people were moving the first thing they did was build a sauna. You could live in it, make food in the stove, take care of your personal hygiene and most importantly, give birth in an almost sterile environment. The sauna smoke contained tannic acid, an anti-bacterial polymer, which was the main reason saunas were the most sterile places. Another reason for its popularity is that in such a cold climate, the sauna allows people warmth for at least a short period of time. However, it is just as popular in the summer as in the winter.

Finnish sauna customs

Saunas are an integral part of the way of life in Finland. They are found on the shores of Finland's numerous lakes, in private apartments, corporate headquarters, and even at the depth of 1400m (Pyhäsalmi Mine), and at the Parliament of Finland. The sauna is an important part of the national identity[1] and those who have the opportunity usually take a sauna at least once a week. The traditional sauna day is Saturday.[2]

The sauna tradition is so strong that even Finns abroad enjoy a good sauna, probably the reason the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe, London, has its own sauna. Finnish soldiers on peacekeeping missions are famous for their saunas; even on the UNMEE mission in Eritrea, a sauna was one of the first buildings to be erected.[citation needed] (A Second World War-era Finnish military field manual states that a rest of eight hours is all that is required for a battalion to build saunas, warm them and bathe in them.)

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