For centuries we Finns were born in the sauna, and it was there that we entered the next world, too. In the meantime we cleansed, meditated, and nursed a cold in the same little hot room.
Today it is intended for us to be born and die in a hospital. We are not nursed by shamans but we still nurse our colds in the sauna. We may not believe in midsummer magic but we still bring leafy fragrant birch branches into the hotness. We may buy our beer in the store but we still store it either in the sea or lake or in the cold water bucket on the sauna floor.
And we city-dwellers may not have access to a sauna by the lake or sea every weekend (unless we flee to our summer houses). But each and every apartment building in this country has a sauna, and many apartments in them, as well. There is no living without a sauna, not even today. Not even for me.
On a Friday night, kindly do not offer me a night out in town. Rather allow me to enjoy the last condo sauna slot of the evening. A companion and a cold cider, or a book and just me. Delicious hotness seeping into the bones. Then slowly inching into the cool pool and a few laps, listening to the water splashing against the rim. Finally more heat until the muscles let go of whatever they were worried about.
Is there such a thing as a collective soul of a people? If there is an ancient, cultural core that is still alive, the sauna would be the vehicle that takes us Finns to that ancient source. Not understanding why we love the heat and the cold shocks, or why we bat each other with birch twig bunches, perhaps we are connecting to the consciousness of that ancient people who speak a language almost nobody understands, and whose geographic roots are shrouded in mystery?
As I twiddled my toes in the turquoise pool water, I could not help but wonder how tightly cultural heritage is entwined into our DNA. From lake water into pool water – into something else, will we still have saunas 200 years from now?(Helsinki, Finland: March 2015)