Smell of a fresh whip made from birch branches and leaves (called vihta or vasta, depending on the region) and the hiss of the sauna stones when water lands on them and wood fire crackling in the stove are the most Finnish thoughts that came to my mind when I was thinking about Finland as a Finn. If you ask a Finn to tell something about Finland, you will probably hear about the sauna and the sauna culture. Sauna is very important for Finns and going to sauna is a long tradition dating back to 2000 years ago. Sauna is also part of many holidays, for example the Christmas Eve and Midsummer. Almost every summerhouse or cottage in Finland has a sauna. We have more than 3 million saunas in Finland. It is a huge number of saunas in a country with a small population of only 5,5 million.
There were and there are still lots of mythical and magical beliefs surrounding sauna. Rituals have also always been an important part of the sauna culture. Every sauna has its own sauna gnome or elf who protects the sauna and people using it. It is important and polite to greet the protective spirit. Magical beliefs have been specifically linked to holidays, such as the Christmas Eve’s sauna. After the sauna, a whip was thrown on the roof of the sauna to predict the future. If the base of the whip pointed towards the church, it meant a funeral for the elderly and a wedding for the unmarried. If you could keep quiet in the Christmas Eve’s sauna, you avoided vermin the following year. Back in the days sauna was also the place where women gave birth. The eight and perhaps the most famous President of Finland, Urho Kaleva Kekkonen was born in sauna like many other children during that time. When Kekkonen was the President of Finland, he had a good reputation as a so-called sauna politician. He did politics and business in sauna with other politicians and world leaders around the world.
We have a magical nature and four amazing seasons. Warm summer, cold but beautiful winter, colorful fall, and spring which awakens the nature. My absolute favorite is summer. I love the endless light, warm summer nights and a joy on peoples faces after a gloomy, dark, and long winter. I think the best thing about summer is spending time on the summer cottage. Having a swim after sauna and a refreshing cold beer on the pier overlooking the lake. That is the place where I can fully relax and recharge my batteries. We have forests and swamps full of berries and mushrooms to pick and enjoy. It takes a bit of time and effort and fighting the deer flies and mosquitos will make you swear every now and then, but after the picking is done you have a freezer full of free superfood! Nothing beats a freshly baked blueberry pie after picking those blueberries by self. And of course, a lovely cup of coffee goes nicely with it.
Speaking about coffee, it is a sacred thing for Finns. It is a routine and its part of our everyday life. “Would you like to have coffee?” is maybe one of the first questions you are asked when you visit a Finn. Coffee is always present on all occasions. Weddings and funerals, you can’t have it without coffee service. No wonder our nation consumes most coffee per capita in the world.
All in all, Finns and Finnish culture is quite cute for me. Mostly we don’t brag, and we mind our own business. We value peace and quiet and want to create it for others. Example if you take a bus, train, or tram, the ride is usually very quiet, and people don’t talk much. It is something which I greatly appreciate. I would say that it might be a bit of a task to get to know and make a friend with a Finn, but once it happens, you might have a true, lifelong friendship.