Get naked for Helsinki’s third Sauna Day

Credit: Georgina Wilson-Powell

Looking for a way to get naked and meet people? No, not like that. Put that dirty thought away. On 11 March Helsinki will hold its third free National Sauna Day– with over 40 public and private saunas taking part. Organised as a community initiative, the event puts the social aspect of sauna front and centre.

Jaakko Blomberg, the event’s founder, shares the bare truth of the Finns’ obsession with getting naked and sweaty.

“Sauna is a really important part of Finnish culture. We are so used to go to one that it’s hard to imagine life without it. It’s associated with Saturdays, summer cottages, weddings, student parties, group sports…We have about three million saunas in Finland and only five and a half million people. That tells you something about the importance of sauna.”

Sauna, used as a verb and a noun in Finland, becomes (in public anyway) a single sex activity once you’re a teenager — women go with girlfriends, mothers and sisters — the men go with their male counterparts. Sweaty sessions in the wood-heated pine saunas are interspersed with dips in ice coldwater and lubricated with beers and chat. Even after a couple of 10 minute stints in a sauna, broken up with a cold beer, stress seems to melt away. It’s a long, languorous way to spend an afternoon or evening — another reason why Sauna Day looks to repopulate the sauna.

“Sauna is the way to relax for a while” explains Blomberg, “but for me sauna is almost always a social event too.”

Credit: Georgina Wilson-Powell

A couple of decades ago most private apartments in the capital would have had access to a private, communal or public sauna but rising housing costs along with various other factors have seen sauna usage fall. This has had a knock on effect on the city’s real life social network.

“We used to have tens of public saunas in Helsinki but at some point there were only three.” he says. “Now people are again looking for more chances to meet each other in many ways and public saunas are becoming more popular again.”

“I want to give people chances to meet each other, to do something together, be nice to each other, be creative and use the resources we have in a better way,” says Blomberg. “These events create solidarity, understanding, social wellbeing and security. Helsinki Sauna Day shows that we are all equal and it’s not just about money in this world but about small deeds, sharing, meeting people and doing together.”

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