Why Finland Has a National Day for Sweating it Out in the Sauna

Sauna bucket and ladle |  © ulleo/Pixabay
Sauna bucket and ladle | © ulleo/Pixabay
Photo of Jessica Wood
27 October 2017

Many visitors go to Finland for the winter sports, a chance to see the Northern Lights, or to explore the wild forests, but the capital city of Helsinki is giving tourists a very different excuse to visit the city: the return of Sauna Day. On March 10, 2018. It is a day when many of the city’s saunas, public and private, will be open and free for anyone to use.

Why free saunas?

Sauna Day is offered for several reasons. While the primary benefit of a sauna is relieving stress, it is also good for physical health too. This is why the sauna was known as ‘the poor man’s pharmacy’ before modern medicine. Saunas are particularly good for the skin as they open up pores and sweat out toxins. People who are trying to quit smoking can sweat all the nicotine out of their system in the sauna, which makes it easier for them to quit. Saunas are also good for circulation, soothing aching muscles and joints, insomnia, and weight loss.

Woman in sauna | © Zerocool / Pixabay

The Finnish sauna also has a strong social aspect to it, which is what the Sauna Day’s organisers are trying to promote. Finnish families, couples, or groups of friends often use the sauna together at least once a week simply to chat. They can even be used for informal business meetings. For the extroverted, public saunas offer a chance to meet and talk with new people. It may seem odd to do all this while completely naked, but this means that people can feel completely comfortable around each other.

Using birch branches in a sauna | © Visit Lakeland / Flickr

On top of all of these reasons, the sauna is also a Finnish tradition that goes back 9,000 years. With over two million saunas in a country of five million people, it is such an integral part of Finnish culture and identity that Helsinki wants to promote it to visitors and show them why Finns love their saunas so much.

A visitor’s guide to Sauna Day

Visit the official Sauna Day website to see the various locations throughout the city that will open up saunas to guests and book a session. They will also be open in the outer suburbs to choose from and will offer different sessions for men and women.

There will be two choices on Sauna Day. The first is a private sauna in someone’s home. These will have fewer people to share the sauna with and offer a chance to see an authentic home sauna and how Finns use it.

There will also be public saunas and hotel saunas offering free entry. These will typically have more people in them as well as more facilities and amenities. Get a rare chance to use a luxury sauna in a hotel or spa.

Traditional wooden sauna | © Ninara / Flickr

Those who are new to using the sauna can request to keep it on a low heat or say something if it becomes uncomfortably warm. Sauna sessions tend only to last around five minutes, but those who begin to feel uncomfortable can get out.

Afterwards, it is essential to cool down with a shower or even with a swim in the ocean. Some even do several rounds of cooling down and getting back in the sauna again.

Group sauna | © Jorge Royan / WikiCommons

The only things needed are a towel, robe (which can be sometimes rent from a hotel or public sauna), and preferably something to drink afterwards. Beer and cider are common choices for a sauna cool-down drink, and having a drink after the sauna is another part of the socialising aspect.

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