There's this word in Finnish: avanto. It means 'hole in the ice.' A traditional activity in Finland during the winter is to go swimming in the hole in the ice. I suppose in the olden days (or even these days, on private property), you'd have to hack through the ice yourself, but these days, summertime swimming areas put some kind of agitator in the water around the dock so that it never quite freezes over in that spot. Thus: the hole in the ice, avanto.
These same summertime swimming places have saunas (co-ed or separated by gender) near the water, for the purposes of winter ice swimming.
The process goes like this.
1. Strip, shower, put on your swimsuit (these places are co-ed and, obviously, outside), and go in the sauna until you're warmed up.
2. Leave the sauna and walk down the dock to the water. Go swimming in the hole in the ice. This could just be a quick dunk, or you could literally swim around for a while.
3. Leave the water, walk back up the dock, and go back in the sauna.
5. After your last round, sit on a bench outside in your swimsuit for a few minutes and enjoy feeling awesome.
Yesterday, we took the kids and went swimming in the hole in the ice! Jeremy has been with friends a couple of times since we moved here, but it was the first time for the kids and me. I have loved the idea of going ice swimming, but when the experience was imminent yesterday, I was less sure about it.
And it turns out it is pretty crazy! That first time in the frigid water...wow. I suppose the sensation is different for everyone, but for me, it was the closest thing I've ever felt to a labor contraction. (Jeremy says it doesn't hurt for him, but for me, I would definitely class it as something that shocks/hurts.) It felt like my body was trying to turn itself inside out and all my pain alarm bells were ringing. I could hardly walk coming up the stairs out of the water.
But the feeling passes within a few seconds, and getting back into that sauna feels sooo good. And, weirdly also like childbirth, you forget how much it hurt and decide you can handle going back into the water again.
From the particular sauna we were in on Ruissalo island, you could look out and see the frozen sea and your fellow winterswimmers walking down the dock. You could also see nonswimmers walking around in their winter layers. It was surreal. The ladies in the sauna ran a tight ship with the temperature and steam - it was above 100C the whole time, and they were not afraid to keep pouring water on the brazier.
Sterling spent most of his time with Jeremy in the men's sauna. He did go outside with us and Jeremy and I took turns holding him while the other went into the water. The girls did all five rounds with me - they were so brave. We went in deeper each time.
As crazy as the experience was (or perhaps because it was so crazy), I LOVED IT. The feeling of walking outside in the winter in your bathing suit, past people in winter coats and hats! The feeling of staring down at that hole in the ice and knowing you are going in it! The feeling of sitting in a sauna, toasty warm, enjoying the view of a frozen sea! It was so...cosy. I can definitely see how this became a thing in Finland.
And be warned: if you come and visit us between October and April, we will be taking you swimming in the hole in the ice.
I'll leave you with this video evidence. The shadows, in order, are Magdalena, Miriam, and me!