Customs
Folk medicine
general

Swedish Sauna

The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota and is of Swedish and Finnish decent.

Over Easter Brunch, the informant provided me with this unique Swedish sauna tradition.

“One time, when I was little, I went with my mother to Minneapolis where there was a Polish community to go to the sauna. It was the one and only time I went. There were too many naked women running around for me to want to go back. Anyways, what you did in the sauna was essentially take a steam bath. After you got all sweaty and steamy, in the old country, you would run out and jump in a snow bank. In Minneapolis, we just poured ice water over ourselves. In the old country, after this you would hit yourself with pine branches, but we didn’t do that here. The point was to open up your pores, and invigorate yourself—to stay healthy.”

Like the informant said, this ritual seems to be about purification and rejuvenation. I would guess that the steam is meant to cleanse the body. Following a steam bath with cold water would also cause pores to snap shut, blocking out any future dirt. I’m not sure what function the pine needles would have served but perhaps it also had something to do with invigorating the flesh.

 

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