Did you know that "sauna" is the only commonly used Finnish word in the English language? However, most English speakers pronounce it incorrectly. In Finnish, every syllable is pronounced and the first takes emphasis. Broken into syllables, sauna would be pronounced "SA-oo-na." When said fast in English, it should sound like "sow-na" instead of "saw-na," as many English speakers say.
Traditional saunas as we know them comes from Finland. The bathing ritual has been performed for thousands of years in Finland, back when settlers would dig ditches in the ground with a heated pile of stones. When water is poured with a ladle from a sauna bucket on these stones to give off vapor, it is known as "loyly." Women would give birth in the saunas because of the bacteria-resistant soot. The sauna was also a place for purification rituals before marriage and after death, as well as place for healing the ill. Today, it is still used for its many health benefits.
Sauna as we know it today has come a long way since those holes in the ground, retains many of the traditional sauna customs of years prior. There are cultural customs associated with sauna etiquette. Men and women sauna separately, unless they are family. Sauna should be taken after and shower and fully naked, even with family, friends and coworkers. The normalcy of nudity makes everyone feel comfortable and equal, and exposes young ones to what real bodies look like as opposed to media representation. Phones and other distractions stay out, and while it is usually too hot for much conversation, topics like work and religion are off the table.
There are three main types of sauna in Finland. The first is wooden, which is the most traditional sauna. Wood is burned in a stove inside the sauna and water is poured onto the rocks above it. The most common household sauna in Finland is the electric, where rocks are heated by an electric stove for a dryer heat. The last type is a smoke sauna, which is rare but has somewhat of a cult following for the soft steam it produces. No longer made because of the risk of burning and lengthy heating process, they don't use chimneys so black smoke remains inside.
Between these types, you'll find three million saunas in Finland for the five million inhabitants; that's an average of per household. Ninety-nine percent of Finns will take at least one sauna a week. It is thought of not as a luxury, but a necessity. For those that don't have an electric sauna in their apartment, they often will retreat to a wooden traditional sauna in one of Finland's many countryside vacation cabins. Most Finns have a cabin, and most of those have sauna. Though a hot sauna may seem counter-intuitive to take a hot sauna on a summer day, sauna is a big part of Finland's summer cottage life. It is tradition to go from sauna to lake and back again. This practice is also done in winter, when the lake is icy cold for a breathtaking and invigorating experience.