I looked into my daughter’s eyes and her mine and we both knew….
We were eating dinner at Nässineula, the tower in Tampere Finland in 2018 and realized that we needed to bring the sauna culture of Finland back to the United States and Traverse City specifically. Tampere is the Sauna Capitol of Finland; it is also where our cousins live and where I spent the summer working in 1991. This trip however was to show at least a part of my family the area where I lived and to have them be able to experience a bit of the Nordic life… little did I know that it would shape the events in our lives as they did.
Our trek, that took us to Tampere, gave our family great experiences. We had a three day layover in Iceland where we hiked waterfalls, visited glaciers and embraced the midnight sun. Then it was onto Helsinki which provided us with our first swim in the Baltic Sea, and a celebration of the midsummer holiday with friends and family. Although it was only a one day detour, we were also able to have an overnight adventure by sea through the archipelago, known as Åland and had an opportunity to tour the ‘old town’ of Stockholm. Tampere however, is the destination I was most excited to visit. It is lesser known to tourists than the other stops as it has a more industrial history, but I always feel welcomed as if I were coming home to visit.
In Tampere we biked around the city, ate at outdoor café’s, visited 4 different public saunas, visited nature stores that specialized in sauna products and just enjoyed the surroundings of nature. What we did not realize while doing this is that all the things that make me feel so welcomed is a large part of what the Sauna Culture is all about.
The Finnish Sauna Culture was officially put on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intangible Heritage List in 2020. To understand what that list means, other items on it include Reggae from Jamaica and Yoga from India. This list represents a component of life that everyone knows and embraces from those countries. For perspective, Finland has a population of 5.5 million people and there are a reported 2.3 million saunas, and it is also said that there are more saunas that there are automobiles. Some people actually refer to the culture as a sort of nature church.
The problems we were having was/is how we were going to bring that sense of nature church, into our society that has increasingly shorter attention spans. It’s funny in a sense, how the problems we find with society are often our own, and so many of our thoughts rarely become actions. This however was not one of those times and quickly evolved from an idea into a sort of calling. And as we continued dining that evening in 2018the entirety of the group, my wife and six cousins, began the brainstorming process.
The brainstorm has continued to this day and if you have any ideas on how we can make the experiences better, let us know.