Text and photos by Ray Balogh
WARSAW — After the ouster of the aristocracy in the French Revolution (1789-1799), the previously disenfranchised populace flocked to the nation’s royal parks, which were reopened for public use. There they engaged in a celebration of food and games called a “pique-nique,” a phrase of ambiguous meaning and disputable origin.
Nevertheless, history is replete with interesting parallels, and this summer, more than two centuries later, families and groups of friends will emerge from their pandemic-prompted, government-mandated domestic cocoons to enjoy the felicitous American tradition known as the picnic.
Friday, June 18, is International Picnic Day, and Americans will do their fair share in commemorating the day all summer long, swarming to parks and beaches and dining al fresco on sandwiches, grilled meat and all the trimmings, playing Frisbee and lawn games, taking a cool dip in the lake and generally enjoying the fresh air.
Picnics are celebrated in unique forms around the world. The Japanese enjoy their festivities during cherry blossom season, with department stores selling prepackaged lunch boxes and vendors peddling their foodstuffs among picnickers.
Argentinians celebrate the Christmas holiday with picnics featuring roasted or barbecued turkey.
Australian picnics include dancing, tugs-of-war and lizard racing. Germans play their outdoor games in the nude.
In New Zealand, picnickers feast on roasted oxen and baked potatoes cooked over fire pits and sip on afternoon tea.
In Scandinavian countries, the game of choice is kubb, a mixture of bowling, horseshoes and chess, where short, thick dowel rods, known as batons, are pitched underhand to knock over small wooden towers.
Turkish outdoor revelers go all out, bringing cushions, rugs, furniture and string lighting to their picnics, which often last into the night.
The Greek celebrate “Clean Monday,” their start of the Lent season, with picnics featuring mussels, octopus and unleavened bread. Italians’ big day for a picnic is Easter Monday. Scotch eggs are a staple at British picnics.
On July 14, 2000, the French celebrated the Bastille Day, which signaled the people’s victory in the French Revolution, with a 600-mile-long picnic, and in 2009 the Portuguese set the Guinness World Record for the largest picnic with 22,232 attendees.
The 1955 movie, “Picnic,” starring William Holden and Kim Novak, was nominated for six Oscar awards and won two.
The first table designed exclusively for picnics appeared in the late 1800s.
We asked several folks in Warsaw and Winona Lake about their reminiscences, plans and advice for picnickers. Their answers appear below.