As I think about the Christmas Eve sauna that my family and I will enjoy tomorrow, I reflect on what it means to me and why I enjoy it so much. Here in Minnesota the weather is much like the weather in Finland. It’s cold, it gets dark early and the ground is snow-covered. Stepping into a Finnish sauna triggers an emotional response that is difficult to describe but has deep, ancient connections to the time of my ancestors.
To many sauna enthusiasts, particularly Scandinavians, the Christmas Sauna is the most special sauna of the year. It’s easy to imagine how the Christmas Sauna became a tradition. In olden days the Christmas Sauna provided relaxation and soothing relief to manual labor.
The traditional Christmas Sauna is taken on Christmas Eve Day. This tradition dates back to past decades when the majority of Finns were still living in the countryside where life was quite hard, with work being primarily manual labor (e.g. farming and logging). Christmas was a time when everyone took time to relax and eat. Perhaps the best Christmas treat of all was to enjoy a sauna during the day—instead of working.
There is an old Finnish saying that can be roughly translated to something like this: “I wish it would always be Christmas so I could take sauna during the day and eat during the night.”
Christmas remains a special time to relax. During modern times the sauna offers the ideal way to get rid of the pre-holiday stress—simply close the door on the rest of the world and enter the peaceful and soothing sauna.
Today the Christmas Sauna tradition continues; most Finns go to sauna to bathe and relax before attending the Christmas Eve celebrations. The typical sauna routine is to go to sauna in the evening, but the Christmas Sauna is enjoyed before sunset on Christmas Eve. Following the sauna, many visit the graves of their families and friends before gathering together for a specially prepared Christmas dinner.