Sauna Singing

My informant is a regular attendant of the Oregon Country Fair. The Oregon Country Fair is an annual non-profit craft fair held in Eugine Oregon held on the second weekend of July. In its inception it was known as the Oregon Renaissance Faire,  however in 1977 it changed its name to better reflect what it represented. During this fair, there are a number of initiation rituals that the people who work at the fair go through when they first join the community. Most of these rituals happen at night after the fair is closed to the public so the workers can act as they please without having to worry about the fair attendants. One of the initiation rituals takes place in the communal sauna during the first night. According to my informant, around midnight of the first night “all the newcomers and whoever else wants to join head over to the sauna. Then they take off their close and start singing songs together.” Aside from being “a ton of fun for everyone” this ritual is used to initiate people into the community of the Oregon Country Fair workers. My informant said that the community there believes that “by getting all the new members to get naked with some of the older members of the community it shows that we are all naked and open with each other and that everyone is fine the way there is. It makes it clear that there is no reason to hide anything. Thats also why we sing. Of course a lot of us are terrible singers, but that is the point. By just doing something fun together, regardless of if anyone is actually good at it or not, the people start to come together.” After everyone has spent a sufficient amount of the time singing in the sauna, everyone runs out together across the cold fairground into the cold high pressure showers.  This signifies the end of the ritual and all the new members how participated are now treated as a “real part of the community”.

It seems that this ritual is a very integral part of the Oregon Country Fair experience. Until you physically remove anything hiding your body and show yourself completely to the community, you aren’t really considered one of them. This reveals a lot about the values of this unique community. For one, it shows that they prioritize openness over most everything. The ritual involves both embarrassing yourself (through the bad singing) and showing yourself in the most naked way possible. The openness of the community is only reinforced by having initiates and the initiates perform this ritual together. In a way, this implies that the ritual is used to introduce the new members of the community to the older members of the community. The social experience of running around the camp naked, in front of everyone, is what brings these people together; through this ritual the community hopes to learn as much about its new members as possible.