what is a picnicEvery year, countless crowds gather to parks to picnic. Families gather together for games of catch and Frisbee.

Couples unpack picnic baskets filled with lunches and wine for a romantic date. Groups of friends gather to break bread on the warm, summer lawn.

The picnic is a staple of the summertime. But what is a picnic? Where did this summertime activity originate?

Where it all started…

Although people have often eaten meals outdoors, people have only been picnicking for a couple of centuries.

The picnic originates with the birth of European Democracy, opening up of large public spaces, and the Romantic fascination with nature.

The word origin: The French “Pique-nique”

The word “Pique-nique” enters the French language in the late 17th century. According to a 1692 French dictionary, the word picnic refers to people bringing their own wine to dine in a restaurant.

In the 18th century, the word picnic appears as a term for card playing and drinking in the presence of good company and conversation.

The artist Thomas Cole depicted "The Picnic" prior to 1860.Picnics and the French Revolution

When then did picnics start happening? The first picnics began after the French Revolution.

The French Revolution abolished the monarchy and nobility, opening up large public spaces that had previously belonged to the estates of large families and kings. With the French Revolution, the large pieces of land became the property of the public.

With the aristocracy gone, French citizens could enjoy the large and luxurious parks of palaces like Versailles, places that were previously restricted to the private parties of the Aristocracy.

Picnicking became a popular way for French citizens to enjoy these newly opened spaces by eating in these beautiful outdoor spaces.

Picnics and Impressionism

The paintings of the impressionists, like Édouard Manet’s 1863 “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” (“Luncheon on the Grass”) depict this newly founded French hobby.

The Migration of Picnicking to England

Eager to pick up on the newly-formed French fashion of picnicking, a group of Londoners founded the “Picnic Society,” a group that met in the Pantheon at Oxford Street to engage in picnics. Members were assigned various responsibilities, including bringing delicious refreshments and interesting entertainment for each of the society’s regular meetings.

Picnics & Romanticism: A way to enjoy nature

The 1800’s marked the beginning of the Romantic era, a movement that was well known for its fascination with the beauty of nature.

The American Picnic

Likewise, the trend entered the American consciousness as early as 1830. American painters as early as 1830 depict groups of picnickers enjoying the beautiful American landscape, portraying the activity that people today share all over the world.

Picnicking in the modern age (aka Today)

Now that I’ve told you a bit about the history of picnics, let’s talk about picnics today.

First of all, who should you invite on a picnic and what kind of activities should you plan accordingly?

A Romantic Picnic evening for couples

the romantic picnicPicnics are a great idea for a romantic date. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a first date, but a picnic could make an idea fourth or fifth date.

It’s also an ideal date for a spouse or longtime partner. If you are planning a picnic as a romantic evening, I think it’s important to make sure you set the right mood.

Try to capture the classic picture of a romantic picnic, going all out with a picnic basket and an actual picnic blanket. This shows that you put a lot of thought into the occasion.

On a romantic picnic, the main activity will be the meal, the conversation, and perhaps a nature walk and conversation after the meal.

A Fun Activity for Friends

I remember mostly picnicking with friends in high school and college at local parks. When I was a teenager, our picnics didn’t even necessarily involve food: they were just a great way to spend the afternoon in the park.

When picnicking with friends, it’s a great idea to bring some outdoor activities. Often, someone brings a guitar. Bringing a football to throw or a soccer ball to kick can be another great outdoor activity to add to the mix.

A Way for Families to Spend Time Together

Picnicking is also a fun family activity. It’s especially a fun way for families to spend a holiday. Family picnics can also involve several families cooking together.

At such activities, it’s a good idea to do a potluck style event where everyone contributes something to the meal. I would recommend hosting a family picnic at a public park with a grill for making hot dogs or hamburgers.

If there are children, make sure to have some fun activities planned. These can include field games or ball sports. Some public parks might have a playground.

Popular Places for Picnics

where to picnic

Generally speaking, you can have a picnic anywhere where there’s a large plot of public land. Some options include:

  • Public Parks
  • National Parks
  • The Beach
  • Near a Lake or Body of Water
  • Anywhere with picnic tables

When choosing a picnic location, make sure it’s suitable for the kind of picnic you are hosting.

If you have a large family picnic with children, you might want to consider a place with a playground nearby.

If it’s a romantic date, try to find a place close to nature with beautiful scenery.

What to Bring on a Picnic

pack your basket

Now let’s talk about picnic essentials. What should you pack in your picnic basket?

Food and Drink:

Picnics are usually about eating, so let’s talk about what you’ll need foodwise:

  • Easy to Transport Food: You want food that is easy to transport, and preferably something that you can eat with your fingers. Sandwiches are an ideal choice. If you are grilling, bring a loaf of bread and some patties. If cooking these for a large group, make sure you have some vegetarian options!
  • Ice: You need to keep your food cool, especially if it’s a bit of a hike to your picnic location. Make sure to pack some ice in the cooler, keeping your food from spoiling.
  • Drinks: This largely depends on the kind of picnic. For a romantic evening, I would recommend wine. After all, the French did invent the picnic! For a larger picnic, you should have soft drinks for kids, as well as adult beverages, if acceptable.
  • Condiments: If a larger picnic, make sure that you have the ketchup and mustard for the hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as whatever else you might want.

Picnic Gear:

Besides the food, you will need some accessories to go with it.

Here’s a basic list of the utensils you might need:

  • Paper plates and (preferably paper, not plastic) cups
  • Utensils: something you don’t mind using, but can wash off later.
  • Napkins or paper towels
  • Corkscrew

Don’t Forget: Blanket and Basket

No picnic would be complete without a picnic blanket and basket. While less essential for the large family gatherings, you should definitely have both for your romantic picnic. They are also ideal for small picnics among friends.