HISTORY AND CULTURE
“The Importance of Song”
The Estonian sense of self – both individual and national – is very strong. Especially the national sense of self is closely tied with aspects of folk and artistic culture. For ages they have expressed their values and their national identity corporately through song. I was very surprised to find that this love of group singing extends even to contemporary youth so that a church’s youth ministry was sometimes actually a youth choir.
According to a web site describing Estonian culture:
“If you ask an Estonian to sing, you’ll meet with an embarrassed refusal. Yet Estonians, with their long tradition of song festivals dating from the time of the National Awakening in the mid-19th century, have earned themselves the title of a singing nation. The typical Estonian willingly sings in a choir; choral music is considered by many to be a symbol of the country at large.
The Estonian Literature Museum contains more than 1 300 000 pages of folk songs. As for the size of its folklore collection, Estonia comes second only to Ireland. At the song festivals, people don colorful folk costumes and head in their thousands for the Song Festival Field in Tallinn. Ever since the period of the National Awakening, Estonians have been eagerly attending concerts and theatre performances. The theatres in smaller cities can by no means be called provincial; they attract viewers from all over the country. It is quite possible to travel from one end of Estonia to the other in a single day. With such light summer nights, huge open air concerts have become all the rage in Estonia.”
“The Sauna: One Man’s Heaven – Another Man’s Hell”
In old Estonian homes with no running water, the sauna served the practical purpose of a bath. To this day, it is a fixture in Estonian homes and is used on a weekly basis by the whole family. Over time, it has also come to represent the heart of the Estonian home. Every Estonian home either has one or longs for one. Young boys sit in the sauna and describe the one they will build when they grow up. Between good friends or family, the sauna is not just a room for cleansing the body, it makes room for cleansing the soul. There is no other physical space I know of in which Estonians are more likely to freely speak the contents of their heart.
If you decide you’re up for this intense and relaxing experience (and it is very relaxing!), here is what will happen:
Those going into the sauna take off all their clothes (men and women go separately) and enter a small room heated up to about 70-90 degrees Celcius. Everyone takes a seat on wooden benches and waits for the heat to sink in – it’s great! In no time at all, you’ll begin sweating. But just to help things along and to keep the air moist, some one will throw hot water onto the stove to create a hot steam cloud. You can only take this for about 15 minutes before you’ll need to leave the sauna room. But here’s the next surprise. On leaving the sauna, Estonians will take a freezing cold shower or jump in a cold lake or into the snow. After a bit of rest, it’s back into the sauna. Usually during the second or third round, people will take birch twigs which have been soaking in a bucket of water and will slap their skin with them. This is actually a great feeling. It opens up your pores and coats your skin in the natural oil of the birch leaves.
After all is said and done, people typically sit outside and eat fruit and drink Estonian root beer (Kali).
Here are some good points to remember if you’d like to take part.
1. If you are uncomfortable taking off your clothes, it is perfectly fine for you to wear a swim suit. But you may be the only one wearing anything 🙂
2. DO NOT FORCE YOURSELF TO STAY IN THE SAUNA IF YOU ARE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THE HEAT! It takes practice to be able to stay in the sauna for longer periods and no one is competing. If you feel light headed or in anyway uncomfortable, just leave and wait for the others to join you. Some will stay longer than others, it just depends on each person and how they happen to feel on that particular day.
3. You will sweat a lot in the sauna so make sure that you drink a lot before you go in and that you have something to drink when you come out. Also, it’s a good idea not to eat anything heavy before going to sauna or to let your dinner digest first.