What are the Swedish sauna traditions

sauna traditions

The Swedish word for sauna is bastu, and the action of going there is to basta. E.g “Vill du basta ikväll?” (Do you want to sauna this evening?). If you’ve never been to a sauna/bastu before and you’re thinking: “stop giving me translations, I don’t even know what it is!”, essentially: the sauna is a little wooden box. It’s a room which can be in someone’s house, in the departments of university buildings, on lakes, in student dorm basements, ON the sea. The purpose is the room is to go, put water on hot coals, sit there in the warmth and sweat. A lot.

The room itself has several tiers of wooden seating – you should sit at the top if you want to sweat out every possible sin and toxin from your body. In university buildings and student accommodation, saunas are usually designed so that there are showers right next to it, so you can pop in and out between the heat of the sauna and the cold of the shower. Other saunas are designed so that you can head out to the sea or to a lake afterwards, dunking your body in the water, or going for an extended swim before heading back inside.

So you just sit in a very warm box for ages?

Shorthand answer, yes. But (imagine me doing a very bad, enthusiastic Swedish impersonation right now) – it’s so much more than that! Many students take advantage of the space of the sauna to have small parties with friends, getting some beers in and chatting the nights away. On bitingly cold winter nights, when you feel very skeptical about heading outdoors, it can make for a nice alternative, sitting in the warmth all together.

Taking the plunge in cold water

If the sauna you’re visiting is located on or near a body of water, that is a key component of the bastu experience. Swedes often sit in the sauna for 20-30 minutes, until they’re sufficiently sweltering, run outside with a towel in hand and jump into the water. In the winter, you’ll head outside, trying to get your footing right between snow and ice patches, before submerging yourself in small pockets of water carved out from under the ice.

In the summertime it’s a much more forgiving experience, where you might run out to the lake or the sea – jump in for the quick sensation of cold, wet water on hot skin – before hopping out again. Depending on how brave you’re feeling, you might return to the sauna a few more times, dunking in and out of the routine of warmth and cold for a couple of hours.

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