Winters are brutal in Finland. The warmest month in the south of Finland, July, only gets between 55 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit, while the coldest, February, averages between minus 7 and 26 degrees Fahrenheit. The north has two-month-long sunless winters, while the south sees only around six hours of daylight.
It’s the type of weather that will make you seriously consider staying inside rather than going out with your friends, social distancing guidelines or not. So perhaps it’s not surprising that staying home in the comfort of your underwear is a cultural tradition in Finland. It’s called kalsarikännit, which essentially translates to, “The feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear — with no intention of going out.”
Kalsarikännit wasn’t a concept created during the worst of times. It wasn’t inspired by government orders to stay away from each other. Nevertheless, as the world faces an undefined period of time when six feet is the closest people should get, there has never been a better time to embrace pantsless lounging the Finnish way.
“It’s a cultural concept and part of our heritage,” says Reijo, a Finn recently contacted over WhatsApp. “All Finns understand what it means.”
Kalsarikännit is a customizable concept, Reijo continues. The basic necessities are simple: solitude or near solitude (people you’re self-isolating with are fine), a room to relax in, the lack of desire (or ability) to go out for a drink, and a feeling that you “cannot be bothered to dress up, so you might as well be in your underwear (though not a total prerequisite).”
You can drink whatever you like — my recent choices have included wine I’ve picked up over my travels that I’ve been saving for a special time, as well as beer from local Brooklyn breweries like Wild East and Transmitter. To really get in the spirit of things, I’ve also indulged in a couple Finnish Long Drinks, which are pre-mixed beverages of citrus soda and vodka or gin. Your drink of choice might be a cocktail or something non-alcoholic. It doesn’t matter.
While there are very loose guidelines on what kalsarikännit is, there are a few clear things it is not. Firing up a video conference call with seven friends? Not kalsarikännit. Singing from your balcony with neighbors and a glass of wine in hand? Nope. Hiding out in the sauna with a beer and friends? Maybe, depending on how many friends are there. The easiest way to know you’re practicing kalsarikännit like a true Finn is to keep it simple: Grab a drink, strip down to your most comfortable state, and sip while indulging in whatever medium of distraction you prefer. It’s not for everyone, but it’s just right for some (myself included).
Scandinavian countries are famous for their happiness, and each has its own way of achieving and describing said happiness — though free healthcare and education don’t hurt. Denmark has hygge, or the dedication to all things cozy. Sweden has lagom, which means “just the right amount” and refers to finding balance in life. These are both fine ways to find inner peace, but the Finns sure know how to set a happiness bar we can all achieve.
The popularity of kalsarikännit has gone global before. Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released emojis depicting Finnish culture starting in 2015. The 56-emoji package included one of a man drinking beer in his underwear and one of a woman drinking red wine in her underwear. Publications in the United States lapped them up — especially publications focused on drinks.
Yet it’s a much different time than it was in the mid-2010s. Major life changes are happening daily, if not hourly, as people grapple with the impacts of COVID-19. We’re all trying our hardest to help ourselves and those in need as jobs are lost and the ones we love fall ill. We’re staying inside to flatten the curve, but we’re exhausted as if we’ve just gone on the outdoor adventure of a lifetime.
Over in Finland, Reijo took part in plenty of bouts of kalsarikännit in his youth “like any good Finn.” Though he, like many adults in the country, is “not an active practitioner” anymore. Still, he says, he wouldn’t be surprised if isolation started something of a revival.
Give it a try and practice some self-care the Finnish way. Kalsarikännit carries no judgment.