Picnicking – A Little History and A Lot of Screen Time

picnic_basket_1Unseasonal weather and spring’s quick approach bring the promise of an outdoor picnic to the table. While dining in open air has long been in practice for both pleasure and necessity, the origin of the word “picnic” maintains more elusive origins.

The earliest written form of picnic appeared in French to describe a group of diners who decided to BYOB their own wine at a local café. From there “pique-nique” in French continued to circle in use as a term to describe what Americans refer to as a pot-luck – a meal where all diners brought something to contribute to the meal. Our modern dictionary now defines picnic as “an excursion or outing in which the participants carry food with them and share a meal in the open air” (www.dictionary.com), however the origin remains debated.

Wherever the actual beginnings of the word “picnic” were born, Western culture has since embraced picnicking as a rite of spring and outing suitable for families, lovers and friends.  Today, we associate picnicking with a day of leisure and culinary consumption under a shady tree, an event of pleasure, relaxation and reveling in the good weather that comes with springtime. Picnickers are a common sight in city parks and even on longer hiking trails during the sunny months.

Many movies, new and old depict this common practice, some with happy endings and others with more ominous overtones. Before you pack up that picnic basket, be sure to screen test your outing by viewing some notable movie picnic scenes. Whether they inspire or point out a few extra safety preparations will depend on your cinematic selection, but all are sure to get you thinking about how you want to picnic this year.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Why anyone would choose a venue named hanging rock for the site of a Valentine’s Day picnic remains a mystery, as does the subsequent disappearance of the picnicking party from their chosen venue. When a small group of girls and their teacher at an Australian girls’ school go out for a Valentine’s Day picnic at Hanging Rock, no one has reason to suspect the worst of their afternoon of leisure.

The event begins without fanfare as the group enjoys cake and relaxes in the warm afternoon shade, but soon takes an odd turn when three of the girls and their teacher disappear without a sound. The remaining picnickers can offer no clues to their departure and soon the school, the small village and everyone associated with the picnicking party becomes obsessed and haunted by the absences.

The Sound of Music

Even those with little enthusiasm for musicals can’t help but love Julie Andrews’ portrayal of a free-spirited nun in the 1965 award winning The Sound of Music. One classic song from the picture unfolds at the end of a clandestine Alpine picnic with Maria and the children. After a morning of hiking over grassy crags and snacking on schnitzel, Maria gives the children their first lesson in song. She starts with the basics “Do re me…”, but soon the simple refrain leads to a montage of frolicking Austrian children dressed in re-purposed window curtains serenading the city of Salzburg with their new-found vocal prowess.

While the final scolding they receive from their musically bereft father puts a damper on the picnic’s end, the picnic itself leaves little to be desired by any picnicking aficionado.


Another picture of picnicking bliss painted by expert social surveyor Jane Austen takes us to Box Hill where Emma and friends celebrate the beginning of spring with berry picking and good eats while relaxing under shady canopies. The luxury of their spread is made easier by the many servants and porters hidden behind the scenes, but it does give the picnic planner more to aspire to than simple an old picnic blanket and some granola bars.

Just remember that when playing games to entertain your guest, it’s considered both impolite and impertinent to make a joke at their expense, even in the best spirit. Take a cue from Emma’s organizational strategy, but not her party manners while enjoying the romantic follies of the characters in Jane Austen’s classic Emma.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Some could argue that Alice’s meeting with the March Hare and Mad Hatter qualifies as a tea party rather than a picnic. However, exercising some creative license and the aforementioned definition, the madcap gathering takes place at “a table set out under a tree in front of the house,” (Chapter  7) making it a meal in open air and a picnic for our purposes.

Since the publication of the book in 1865, there have been a number of cinematic adaptations, explorations and interpretations of the story and themes present in the original work. Without fail, though, the mad tea party takes the cake for picnic insanity. You might not wish your own picnic to take on such a topsy-turvy nature, but there’s something to be said for incorporating musical chairs, word play and a bit of British tradition into your picnic party.

Now that you have a few filmic inspirations to pick at your brain, don’t forget that there are plenty of picnicking accoutrements to assemble for your own adventures in the wonderland of picnicking this season. Whether you’re celebrating with your honey this Valentine’s Day or taking the family for a walk over some rolling hills, make sure you have your basics together with a picnic basket, a picnic cooler for the cold cuts and even a wine service for the adults to enjoy the fresh air in style.

Browse the wide selection of picnic baskets and picnic accessories from Outdora to picnic in style this Valentine’s Day. Right now, save an additional 10% off any picnicking purchase with Outdora’s special Valentine’s Day promotion. Use the coupon code “picnic10” at checkout to receive the limited time discount on your picnic purchase.


Julia Shackelford works as an SEO content developer, blogger, web developer, and creative writer in Oakland, CA. When she’s not stomping around the Cali wilderness or writing, she works as a consultant and director on short films and educational game products across the Southwestern United States.

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