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Finnish sauna tradition officially protected by UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List

30 Dec 2020
Finnish sauna culture has been added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

With 3.3 million saunas in a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, sauna bathing remains at the very heart of Finnish culture and society, with associated traditions including songs, storytelling and socialising.

With almost 90 per cent of the population sauna bathing once a week before COVID-19, the tradition continues to flourish.

The UNESCO list serves to preserve and bring visibility to intangible living heritage and traditions, such as living practices, expressions, skills and knowledge that communities cherish and recognise as their cultural heritage.

The list encourages the sharing of good practices among countries and sauna bathing’s addition means the continuity of the tradition is safeguarded.

“Sauna bathing is an integral part of both everyday life and festivities as well as wellbeing and lifestyle for Finnish people,” explained Annika Saarikko, Finland’s minister of science and culture, “it underscores equality and mutual respect.

“This UNESCO inscription will make our sauna tradition even better known throughout the world.”

Ritva Ohmeroluoma from the Finnish Sauna Society said the news was a “great honour” and that sauna bathing is “cherished by the Finnish people”.

As of December 2020, the UNESCO list features 584 elements corresponding to 131 countries, including other wellness modalities such as yoga and traditional Thai massage.

During the pandemic, sauna has become a hot topic as the wellness industry explored interventions which can support those with the virus and strengthen the immune systems of those who want to take steps to avoid it.

Follow this link to find out Professor’s Marc Cohen’s take on why he believes sauna bathing benefits those battling and recovering from COVID-19.


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