Europe

'Christmas sauna' in Helsinki gives enthusiasts a free sweat

People emerge into the cold open air from the free Christmas sauna which has become an annual tradition, set up in historical centre of Helsinki, Finland, Sunday Dec. 18, 2016.  Several hundred people have already visited the free ‘Christmas Sauna’ in Helsinki city centre, according to organisers of this annual winter tradition. (Helsinki Sauna Photo via AP)

People emerge into the cold open air from the free Christmas sauna which has become an annual tradition, set up in historical centre of Helsinki, Finland, Sunday Dec. 18, 2016. Several hundred people have already visited the free ‘Christmas Sauna’ in Helsinki city centre, according to organisers of this annual winter tradition. (Helsinki Sauna Photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Wrapped in a towel and oozing sweat, a steaming man steps outside into sub-zero temperatures enthusing about the sauna which he's just come out of — right in the middle of Helsinki in the city hall courtyard.

The Finnish hot room plays an integral part in year-end traditions, and Helsinki decision makers have made sure there's free and easy access to a wood-burning "Christmas sauna" during two weeks of December.

Ville Vehmaa says he's probably had a sauna "maybe ... 3,000 times," but he's still attracted to the transportable wooden hut, seating 10 sweating bodies at a time, which opened on Dec. 9.

Anna Pakarinen, one of the organizers, said Sunday that providing a sauna in the historical center helps make "a good city a livable and a lovable city."