Our intangible sauna culture

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POSTED: January 27, 2021

Bryan Alexander emailed me today with this interesting cultural tidbit. He said that “sauna culture in Finland has now become inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. Whatever that might mean.

According to the UNESCO website it means that

Sauna culture in Finland is an integral part of the lives of the majority of the Finnish population. Sauna culture, which can take place in homes or public places, involves much more than simply washing oneself. In a sauna, people cleanse their bodies and minds and embrace a sense of inner peace. Traditionally, the sauna has been considered as a sacred space – a ‘church of nature’. At the heart of the experience lies löyly, the spirit or steam released by casting water onto a stack of heated stones. Saunas come in many forms – electric, wood-heated, smoke and infra-red. Approaches vary too, with no hierarchy among them. Sauna traditions are commonly passed down in families and though universities and sauna clubs also help share knowledge. With 3.3 million saunas in a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, the element is readily accessible to all. Traditional public saunas in the cities almost disappeared after the 1950s. In recent years, new public saunas have been constructed thanks to private initiatives.

Intangible cultural heritage? I must find out more. Or not.