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In a world that seems to be moving at an ever-increasing pace, with technology and modernity shaping our daily lives, it becomes crucial to pause and reflect on the ties that bind us to our cultural heritage. Rites and rituals serve as powerful anchors, connecting us with our past, our ancestors, and the essence of who we are.
As a Finn, I find myself drawn to the beauty of our cultural rituals, particularly the ones that revolve around nature—the very heart and soul of Finland. I have an intimate relationship with the elements of water, fire, and snow. Each season paints a vivid backdrop to the stories of our lives, and our rituals are intricately woven into this natural rhythm. One such cherished celebration is juhannus, our midsummer festival.
Juhannus is a time of joy, laughter, and togetherness. As the long days of summer bless us with sunlight that seems to last forever, we gather to celebrate the beauty of the solstice and the magic of this enchanting season. At the heart of this celebration lies an essential element that epitomizes the Finnish spirit—the sauna.
The sauna is not merely a place to cleanse and rejuvenate the body; it is a sacred space where we connect with our loved ones, our ancestors, and the earth. It is a timeless tradition that has been passed down through generations, carrying with it the wisdom of our forebears. Stepping into the warmth of the sauna, I can feel the collective memories of countless souls who have sought solace and communion within these walls.
The Power of Ritual
Listen to an NPR clip with anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas about his book, Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living.
Rites and rituals have existed since time immemorial, woven into the fabric of human societies across the globe. They are powerful vehicles for preserving and transmitting cultural heritage, passing down knowledge, and marking significant milestones in life.
As a child, my grandmother lovingly taught me the art of crafting a vihta, a bundle made from birch branches. These vihtas hold a special place in the Midsummer sauna experience. The process of creating one is not merely a set of actions; it is a ritual in itself, connecting me to the natural world and my ancestors. My grandmother showed me when and where to collect the branches, emphasizing the importance of choosing the right birch trees and carefully tying the vihta with natural materials. Adding a sprinkle of meadowsweet to the vihta not only enhanced its beauty but also filled the sauna with a sophisticated, soothing aroma. It was a touch of elegance that transformed a simple ritual into a sensory delight.
To me, the simple act of crafting a vihta has become a ceremony of gratitude, a celebration of the wisdom of the ages, and a bridge that spans time, generations, and memories. As we navigate the complexities of contemporary life, the power of rituals remains ever relevant. In a world where technology often isolates us from one another, rituals bring us together, allowing us to celebrate, mourn, and connect in ways that transcend the virtual realm.
The Rite of Passage at TGS
At THINK Global School, we embrace the transformative power of rituals, and the Rite of Passage (ROP) is a cornerstone of our community-building efforts. This rite marks a crucial moment in the journey of new students as they enter our school, offering them an opportunity to challenge themselves, foster trust, and build lasting connections with their peers and mentors. Students are encouraged to step outside their comfort zones, breaking through their preconceived physical and mental barriers.
The ROP serves three essential purposes:
- Challenge and growth: By undertaking physically and mentally demanding tasks, students discover their inner strength and resilience. These experiences lay the foundation for personal growth and instill a belief in their ability to overcome obstacles.
- Community building: The ROP is a collective endeavor that brings students and staff together, fostering a strong sense of community. The shared challenges and triumphs create bonds that extend beyond the individual, cultivating a supportive network within the school.
- Introducing core values: Throughout the ROP, students are exposed to THINK Global School’s mission and core values. This immersive experience allows them to embody these values in their actions and interactions with others.
When it comes to community building, few experiences rival the power of embarking on a challenging journey surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. This year’s ROP hike at THINK Global School took us to the stunning mountain range of Prenj, nestled in the heart of Bosnia & Herzegovina. As a Finn with a deep appreciation for nature, I was captivated by the breathtaking peaks that stretched before us, leaving us utterly speechless. Yet, the ROP is more than just a physical challenge; it is a transformative journey that strengthens our connections and cultivates a shared sense of purpose.
Saila Purho is an educator at THINK Global School who strives to be a creative, inspiring teacher who uses an eclectic choice of teaching techniques, methods, and activities to empower and get the most out of her students. You can learn more about her here.