keskiviikko 2. maaliskuuta 2011


Sauna has been substantial part of Finnish culture already for over a thousand years. Today's Finns love their tradition with the same passion as their ancestors did and will find any excuse to take a sauna. A dip into a lake, or even swimming in a hole cut in the ice are parts of the modern sauna traditions as well as cold beer for adults, carbonated soft drinks for kids and grilled sausages with strong mustard for everyone.

Sauna is usually heated up saturday evenings, but can be enjoyed at any time. Weekly sauna is the closest thing to meditation every Finn exercises regularly. Soft-spoken discussions of some personal matters are common in sauna. Conversation is relaxed, arguments are avoided and swearing is unacceptable, as sauna is almost a sacred place. Thoughts flow free and hurry is left outside. The old saying "the Finnish soul rests in sauna" tells it all. Washing the back of your sauna-buddy can be the greatest expression of friendship for these somewhat silent Scandinavians.

There are some five million inhabitants and over two million saunas in Finland, an average of one per household. Almost every family has an own sauna, even in rental homes of apartment buildings. Only the residents of apartments build at the 1960's and 1970's or earlier share a communal in-house-sauna, where families can reserve a "weekly sauna turn" for themselves. One evening of every week is reserved separately for men and for women to join sauna together with neighbours. Big companies have PR-saunas to invite guests and many important decisions are known to be decided in the steam of sauna.

Sauna room is heated to 80-100 degrees of Celsius (170-230 degrees of Fahrenheit). It is used for bathing as well as for mental and physical relaxation, just like Onsen in Japan. Water is thrown on the hot stones topping the kiuas, a special stove. Occasionally one uses vihta, fragrant bunch of birch, to gently beat oneself. It relaxes the muscles and fills the steamy room with fresh scent of birch leaves. The supermarkets sell ready made frozen vihtas for the "city slickers" who cannot self handed pick branches from the woods. When the heat no longer feels comfortable, it is customary to jump into a lake, to take a cold shower or even to roll in a snow. Then one usually sits down on the porch of the sauna to enjoy sausage, along with beer or soft drinks, until it's time to go back to the hot room. Finns repeat the cycle as long as they feel like, lasting usually between 30 minutes up to two hours.

In olden days sauna was called "the pharmacy of the poor". Sauna was used for healing, cupping and massaging. A baby saw his first day in sauna, as the childbirth and washing the firstborn were done in sauna. Also the bodies of dead were taken into the sauna for the last wash.

In Finnish folklore, sauna is the home of Saunatonttu, the sauna-elf. The spirit of the sauna looks like a tiny sized pitch-black human who is always the last to take the sauna, when all others are already gone. The black color originates from soot of the old fashioned smoke-sauna. According to the belief you should never speak lout or throw water in aggressive manner to make the elf angry. The aim is to respect the elf so that he will protect the sauna, give good steam and bring good luck for the humans using the sauna. Fire-fairy lives in the steam and has powers to banish hostility and illness. There was a fear, that If people behaved disrespectfully, sauna-elf would give burning steam or even worse; the whole sauna might burn to the ground one day. Even today Saunatonttu is often greeted at the doorstep of sauna and the last water is always thrown to the stove to thank the elf for the good sauna evening.



4 teaspoons hot English mustard powder (for example Colman's)
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix mustard powder and sugar in a saucepan, add boiling water gradually, constantly stirring. Add vinegar and salt, mix well and pour into clean class jars. Set aside to cool. Let the mustard rest in the fridge for 1 full day before serving it with grilled sausages or smoked salmon.

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