Celebrating the sauna
For most of us, a trip to the sauna is a rare treat, but for the Finnish, it’s a regular part of life. A common Finnish expression translates as ‘First build your sauna, then build your house’, making it apparent that saunas play a large role in the country’s make-up.
Don’t be alarmed if you’re handed a bundle of birch tree branches in the sauna, locally known as a vasta or a vihta. Locals use them to swat at their bodies, and you should, too – the combination of the branches’ impact on your skin and the hot air of the sauna awakens your pores and stimulates blood flow.
The heat and intensity of the sauna varies depending on where and with whom you’re enjoying it. Generally, you’re free to excuse yourself at any point, unless you’ve had a few with your Finnish friends. In this case, asking to leave the sauna first is called ‘jaahy’, meaning penalty, and you might be asked to take part in a forfeit like jumping into a cold lake or running into a snowdrift. More likely, you’ll all leave the sauna revitalised to cool off over a chat and a beer.