As the world advances and technology changes the way we spend our leisure time, it’s easy to forget the simple pleasures of the past. One such pleasure is picnicking, a timeless activity that has been enjoyed for generations.
In the early and mid-20th century, picnics were a popular way for families and friends to come together, share food, and create memories in the great outdoors.
Fortunately, we have a glimpse of what those moments were like through the vintage photographs that were captured.
The word “picnic” is believed to have originated from the French word “pique-nique”, which referred to a communal meal where each guest brought a dish to share.
However, the history of picnics as a leisure activity dates back much further. The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, enjoyed outdoor feasts that celebrated the beauty of nature and the pleasures of good food and drink.
The modern concept of picnics, however, is said to have originated in England during the Middle Ages. The aristocracy would often gather for elaborate outdoor feasts in the countryside, which they called “banquets” or “fetes champetres“.
These gatherings were extravagant affairs that featured entertainment, music, and games, and were often held to celebrate special occasions such as weddings and christenings.
Picnics as a popular leisure activity began to emerge in the 18th and 19th centuries, as the rise of the middle class led to more leisure time and a desire for outdoor activities.
The Industrial Revolution also played a role, as the creation of public parks and gardens made it easier for people to gather and socialize outdoors.
During this time, picnics were often elaborate affairs, with elaborate spreads of food and drink served on ornate picnic sets.
The wealthy would even employ servants to set up and serve their picnics, while the middle class would bring their own supplies and lay out their own picnics.
Picnicking continued to evolve throughout the 20th century, as changes in technology and transportation made it easier for people to gather in large groups.
The advent of automobiles made it possible to travel further afield, while the rise of supermarkets and refrigeration made it easier to transport and store food.
Picnics have become an important cultural tradition in many societies, and are often associated with holidays, festivals, and special occasions.
For example, in the United States, picnics are a popular way to celebrate Independence Day, while in Australia, picnics are a common way to celebrate Christmas Day.
In Japan, picnics are known as “hanami”, and are held during the spring to celebrate the blooming of cherry blossoms.
Contemporary picnics for many people involve simple food. In The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson offers hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches, and pieces of cold chicken as good examples.
In America, food writer Walter Levy suggests that ‘a picnic menu might include cold fried chicken, devilled eggs, sandwiches, cakes and sweets, cold sodas, and hot coffee’.
(Photo credit: Pinterest / Flickr / The Camden Public Library / Wikimedia Commons).