Spend a hot summer with God in the smoke sauna of Estonia

People come out of the sauna and prepare to jump into the pond. During the sauna hours of several hours, they will go back and forth to the sauna and the desolate pool.

How to survive the hot summer of the heat, it has become a worldwide problem that needs to be overcome. In addition to the “Beijing Bikini” that foreign friends have followed suit, there are actually many ways to cool off the summer. In neighboring Japan, people spend the summer in the hot springs. In the far north, people spend their summer and winter in the sauna.

Many people may know that the sauna is a Finnish bath. The word sauna originally means “a cabin without windows”. In Finland, which has a population of just over 5 million, an average of less than three people own a sauna. When we were drinking cold drinks in the Han Dynasty, they started to steam sauna.

However, for Estonia, which also has a sauna tradition, many people know very little about it. This small country, sandwiched between northern Europe and Russia, is close to the Baltic Sea. Although its location is remote, its economic level and high-tech popularity are high. What’s more, the old smoke sauna culture is still preserved here.


The sauna farms are surrounded by tall broad-leaved forests and clear ponds where children can have fun.


People put the collected leaves into a bundle before entering the sauna. When the sauna is used, it is used to beat the body to promote blood circulation.


The traditional sauna will be built on the side of the pond, and people will jump into the water immediately after steaming through the sauna.


In the southern Hana region of Estonia, the clouds are thick and low.

For the Estonians, the sauna is a way to nurse the body and cleanse the soul. They talk to nature and God in the sacred sauna, and communicate with their ancestors. Although many Estonian lifestyles are already very modern, they are still keen on this ancient way of getting close to nature.

Joachim Esgilson, a photographer from Denmark, has long been concerned about the relationship between people and the environment. After his wife and children, his children often appear in his shots. Also from Northern Europe, Joachim is no stranger to the sauna. In 2017, he accepted the invitation of The New York Times Magazine and came to Estonia to record the experience of a local family experiencing a smoke sauna in the Hanaya area.

Marian and Henry are a young couple living in the capital Tallinn. They took their son, Kaius and daughter Luvis, and drove all the way south, to a sauna-themed farm in the southern Hanaya area. The smoke sauna here has been included in the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list by UNESCO.

They arrived in the Hanaya area and stayed for a short time at the lake. The clouds are thick and low, and the children play on the beach. They also went to the Giant Egg Mountain, the highest mountain in Estonia, where you can see the uneven forests. Eventually they came to the destination, a sauna farm. Looking around, there are tall, broad-leaved forests and clear ponds nearby, and the children are deeply attracted by the cozy life here.

Before starting the sauna, Marian and the children went to the owner of the farm to collect the leaves and tie the leaves into a bundle. This is an essential tool for the sauna. Elsewhere, there are few varieties of leaves, but here, the forest is lush, there are more than ten kinds of leaves to choose from.

Generally speaking, there is no chimney in the log cabin. There are many stones on the stove in the middle. The abalone and peeled birch are burning below and have a special aroma. When the stone is hot, it is watered on it, and a lot of steam lingers in the house. The preparation process is very long, up to 7 hours, and then the talent goes in. When you are in the sauna, you can also apply some honey and salt to your body. Then use the bundled leaves to beat the body to help blood circulation.

Usually a family goes into battle together. In the more distant past, the birth and death of Estonians were done in the sauna. In this farmhouse in the Hana region, there are still some traditions that continue. The family means not only the living, but also the ancestors. When you enter the sauna, you need to say hello to your ancestors. When you leave, you need to say goodbye. The ancestors can return to their souls.

“Estonians used to believe in their ancestors and believe in nature. We are never really Christians. We are closer to nature. We will talk to the trees. We will go to the sacred places to heal ourselves, such as the sauna.” Marian Say, “Smoke sauna is where we pray to our ancestors and talk to them.”


On the lakeside of the Hanaya area, people enjoy their holidays on the beach.

Traditional saunas are accompanied by ancient rituals that require singing and drumming. “It can help you go deeper. It feels so good, it makes you more immersed in yourself, concentrates on your wishes, and the bad things you want to get rid of. I hope my family can have good luck. Don’t worry about the future,” said Marian.

Next is the most critical link. When you are sweating in the sauna and the pores are open, you need to come out of the sauna and jump into the pond outside. In the winter, people often go through the fire steamer, run outside, jump into the ice water, or roll in the snow, which is more exciting than the ice bucket challenge. In the summer, if you don’t want to jump into the water, you can also pour your body with the prepared water.

Both Kaius and Luvis like the smoke sauna. They are curious about everything new, will play with the camera, or stare directly at the camera to see the world inside. They really like the honey and salt on the body in the sauna, although they have not yet understood the age of the ritual culture.

Today, in many parts of Estonia, traditional rituals are or have disappeared. The smoke sauna has also undergone the transformation of modern technology, and more is to use electricity to generate heat. In the past, Estonians not only experienced spiritual baptism in the sauna, but their lives were also closely related to this room. For example, bacon is a necessity for daily diet and is also made in a smoke sauna.


Father Henry and the children played on the beach by the lake.


Marianne and Henry’s son, Caus, he was curious about everything.


Stones are placed on the stove of the cabin. Below the stones are alderwood and peeled birch, which emit a unique aroma. There is a legend in the local area that once the stone reaches the maximum temperature, there will be a mysterious “smoke smoker” to help the smoke out.


Daughter Luvis is at the sauna-themed farm. The farm’s sauna is built from a moss-laden log that harmonizes with the surrounding deciduous forest.

A more fundamental change is that a lifestyle and cultural ecology is changing. Marianne was 33 years old. She likes these traditional parts, even though her life is modern. Like many Estonians, she likes nature and has a real affinity with those trees and landscapes. Photographer Joachim has long settled in Germany, and he feels that this state is rare in Europe.

Photographer Joachim told China Newsweek that the northern part of Estonia is more modern than the south, so it is a long way for people living in the north to smoke saunas. He is building a traditional wooden sauna and is thinking about how to preserve these traditions. “After all, once the tradition disappears, even if it can be restored, it is only a manual state.”