It’s time to get out the picnic basket because July is National Picnic Month.
What is a Picnic?
A picnic is an outdoor gathering where food is brought by the attendees and shared.
Picnics have evolved over the last several centuries. Thought to come from hunting banquet feasts of medieval times, the modern picnic resembles nothing of the pomp, clothing, and posturing these gatherings surely facilitated. The name “picnic” first appeared in 1748 and was originally used by the French. The name itself has not changed, but certainly the concept. Picnics at one time were held indoors and were more closely related to a potluck than a picnic.
Americans began picnicking sometime in the mid-1800s and by the turn of the 20th century it had become a popular leisurely activity. You can find old films of people decked out in swimwear of the day with picnics laid out on the beach.
Picnics used to involve wicker baskets and prepared foods. These repasts were sometimes a symbol of great love. If a suitor was serious about their amour, they could propose a picnic and go out into the country to “get away” from prying eyes.
Kinds of Picnics
In modern times picnics have evolved into grand events. One of these being the tail-gate party held before large football games in America. Tail-gaters bring trucks loaded with BBQ grills and coolers full of food and beer. The gates of the trucks are pulled down and these become the “tables” for the picnic.
There are holidays that are popular picnic days. The 4th of July, America’s Independence Day, brings out masses of people to parks and around bodies of water. Lots of food is grilled and consumed – usually hamburgers and hotdogs – prior to the big display of fireworks. This is the time different kinds of side salads get to shine.
Two other popular days for picnicking are Memorial Day and Labor Day. Memorial Day is the last Monday in May and marks the first big picnic event of the summer. Labor Day is held on the first Monday in September, which is usually considered the last big picnic day of the summer.
Picnics can be held before and after these dates, and anywhere in-between. There are many types of picnics: family reunions, work picnics, gatherings of like-minded people, ball games. I attended a wedding at a park recently that was a picnic. It was a fun afternoon for me. My friends were getting married, there were baby ducks, and lots of really good picnic food (not much food for vegans though).
Where to Have a Picnic
There are many beautiful places to picnic. city, state and national parks being the favorite. Next would be at football games mentioned above, and then there are more unconventional places like roof-tops or an empty baseball field.
National and State Parks: Usually it will just cost a few dollars to park and set up a picnic in a State or National park. I live about an hour away from Sedona, AZ (land of vortices), which hold some of the most stunning red rock views in the world. One of the most popular spots in this area to picnic is Slide Rock.
City Parks: What kind of parks are in your town or city? Where I live I can get to more than 50 parks without leaving the immediate area. Most of them contain a pond or “lake.” Encanto Park in Phoenix, AZ is one of the most popular parks for picnics in this city. Papago Park, which is also home to Grant’s Tomb and the Phoenix Zoo, is another picnic hotspot. After you’ve fueled up on BBQ sandwiches and slaw, you can climb the famous Hole in the Rock and look out over the south valley of Phoenix.
Roadside Tables: Traveling? Need to stop and rest? Many highways and byways have roadside tables where you can pull over and chow down on the eats packed in your cooler. On one of our traveling adventures we found a great spot while driving across 1-70 in Kansas. It included a riverside view, lush vibrant trees, and some very fat geese. More recently, we stopped along the Rio Grande Gorge and enjoyed a stunning view and the sound of the river rushing by as we enjoyed our food.
The Beach: If you aren’t adverse to a little sand in your shorts or your macaroni salad, this is one of the best places for a picnic. Oceanside provides restorative salt air, the calming sound of waves, and a possible dolphin or whale sighting depending on the year. What better place for a picnic? Lakes and rivers also have beaches and are a great place to lay out your spread of food.
What to Take on a Picnic
Picnics can include pre-made sandwiches, from your basic PB & J to elaborate stacked cold cuts. Salads aren’t the usual kind involving lettuce. Some of the most common are macaroni, potato, and coleslaw. Other kinds of food include charcuterie and cheese, fried chicken, burgers (if there’s a grill), and fruits, including grapes, strawberries, and watermelon. Artisan breads are common. And of course some sort of dessert: cakes, cupcakes, tea breads, cookies, and the sort can be found in the basket.
Don’t forget supplies! Paper plates, cups, knives and forks, and if you are grilling, grab the tongs and a spatula. Other things to bring? Sunscreen, and personal misters to keep cool. Grab the items necessary for playing games. Balls, balloons, water guns, twister boards, and those nerf guns. Hula hoops can be a great way to pass the time at a picnic.
What to Do on a Picnic
Games are a common past time. Children’s games include water gun fights, water balloon toss, bubbles, maybe a game like Twister. Smashing pinatas is a popular way to pass the time at a picnic, along with “Duck Duck Goose” and Tag. Popular games among adults and adolescents include basketball, tag football, Frisbee, softball, horseshoes, and shuffle board, although shuffle board became a game identified with seniors.
Picnic activities can be as diverse as the participants. If it is a picnic just for two people, that’s when it can become more romantic and intimate. Sitting and eating a good meal from a basket and watching the sunset can be a great way to bond.
No matter how you like your picnics, there are plenty of resources online to inspire you. Try planning one this month for the family or friends, and check out some of the links below for ideas.