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Finnish sauna tradition seeks UNESCO recognition

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Staff Writer |
Finnish sauna
Tradition   The fascination of sauna

A campaign is underway in Finland to get the Finnish sauna tradition listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as intangible world heritage.

Ritva Ohmerluoma, chairman of the project group, said in Helsinki that sauna culture has remained almost intact despite societal and technological changes in history. "The fascination of sauna has been transferred from generation to generation," she said.

There are roughly 3.2 million saunas in Finland, a country with a population of 5.5 million.

In Finland, saunas are built in practically all types of buildings, either an apartment building or an office building. Residents in an apartment building may have their own built-in saunas or reserve a shared sauna service. A separate sauna is quite often available for an independent family villa or summer cottage.

Sauna time is part of the weekly schedule of Finnish military units and sauna facilities are a must for diplomatic hospitality in Finnish missions.

Nowadays, the source of heat is usually an electric stove, but there are also wood burning saunas.

Besides Finland, the tradition survived in Russia and the Baltics, and has been exported worldwide.

It has been widely thought that sauna originated in Finland although the claim has not been proven. Sauna is also one of the rare Finnish words that have found their way into English dictionaries.

Last year, a national list of "living cultural tradition" was compiled in Finland. Besides the sauna tradition, the uniquely Finnish habit to take candles to cemeteries on Christmas Eve was also among the over 50 entries.

Traditions eligible for UNESCO come from the list. The final Finnish decision maker in the selection is the ministry of culture and education.


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