Picnic

The artist Thomas Cole depicted "The Picnic" prior to 1860.
A picnic party assembling in Columbus, Ohio, c. 1950

A picnic is a meal taken outdoors (al fresco) as part of an excursion – ideally in scenic surroundings, such as a park, lakeside, or other place affording an interesting view, or else in conjunction with a public event such as preceding an open-air theatre performance[1], and usually in summer.

Picnics are usually meant for the late mornings or midday breakfasts, but could also be held as a luncheonette or a dinner event.Descriptions of picnics show that the idea of a meal that was jointly contributed and was enjoyed out-of-doors was essential to a picnic from the early 19th century.[2]

Picnics are often family-oriented but can also be an intimate occasion between two people or a large get together such as company picnics and church picnics. It is also sometimes combined with a cookout, usually a form of barbecue: either grilling (griddling, gridironing, or charbroiling), braising (by combining a charbroil or gridiron grill with a broth-filled pot), baking, or a combination of all of the above.

On romantic and family picnics, a picnic basket and a blanket (to sit or recline on) are usually brought along. Outdoor games or some other form of entertainment are common at large picnics. In established public parks, a picnic area generally includes picnic tables and possibly other items related to eating outdoors, such as built-in grills, water faucets, garbage containers, and restrooms.

Some picnics are a potluck, an entertainment at which each person contributed some dish to a common table for all to share. When the picnic is not also a cookout, the food eaten is rarely hot, instead taking the form of deli sandwiches, finger food, fresh fruit, salad, cold meats and accompanied by chilled wine or champagne or soft drinks.

Etymology

Hunt Picnic by François Lemoyne, 1723

The word comes from the French word pique-nique, whose earliest usage in print is in the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Origines de la Langue Française, which mentions pique-nique as being of recent origin. The term was used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. The concept of a picnic long retained the connotation of a meal to which everyone contributed something. According to some dictionaries, the French word pique-nique is based on the verb piquer, which means 'pick', 'peck', or 'nab', and the rhyming addition nique, which means 'thing of little importance', 'bagatelle', 'trifle',[3][4][5] but for example the Oxford English Dictionary says it is of unknown origin.[6]

Picnicking was common in France after the French Revolution, when it became possible for ordinary people to visit and mingle in the country’s royal parks. In 18th and 19th centuries, picnics were elaborate social events with complex meals and fancy drinks that sometimes took days to prepare.

The word picnic first appeared in English in a letter of the Gallicized Lord Chesterfield in 1748 (OED), who associates it with card-playing, drinking, and conversation. Dictionaries agree it entered the English language as a respelling of the French word pique-nique. The practice of an elegant meal eaten out-of-doors, rather than an agricultural worker's dinner in a field, was connected with respite from hunting from the Middle Ages; the excuse for the pleasurable outing of 1723 in François Lemoyne's painting (illustration, left) is still offered in the context of a hunt.

The claim that the word picnic derived from lynching parties has existed in Black American communities for many years. The word picnic did not begin with the lynching of black Americans; however, the lynching of blacks often occurred in picnic-like settings.[7]