The earliest known picnics were extravagant outdoor meals meant for groups of medieval royal hunters. Picnics would remain fancy meals for the wealthy throughout the Victorian Era, before eventually shifting to simple meals that anyone could pack in a bag and enjoy in the sunshine. Now, cultures across the world have added their own spin on eating outdoors, adding games, specialty foods, and specific holidays to enjoy dining alfresco.
1. HANAMI // JAPAN
Cherry blossom season announces spring’s arrival in Japan, along with the start of hanami—or cherry blossom-viewing picnics—season. To celebrate both, many Japanese spend warm days picnicking beneath the sakura blooms. The tradition is so popular—and the timeframe to enjoy the blossoms is so fleeting—that many parks are packed to the brim with friends and families enjoying homemade dishes (though food vendors peddle among picnickers who didn’t pack enough snacks, and department stores market hanami bento boxes).
2. CHRISTMAS PICNIC // ARGENTINA
While the upper hemisphere mostly dreams of a white Christmas during the snowflake and cold-weather season, Argentineans celebrate the holiday outdoors with Christmas picnics. These holiday events often take place on beaches or at home on patios, complete with roasted or barbecued turkey, pork, or goat.
3. SCOTCH EGGS // GREAT BRITAIN
Britain’s relationship with picnics dates back to the Middle Ages, when royalty would eat out of doors during hunting parties. But it wasn’t until the late 18th century when one of the UK’s most iconic picnic foods emerged: the Scotch egg. Self-proclaimed creator Fortnum & Mason fried sausage-wrapped boiled eggs as a luxury lunch item for upperclass travelers, as they became known for being easy to eat on the road. In years since, the savory snack has become popular among picnickers looking to pack a filling dish that can be served cold—perfect for celebrating the country’s National Picnic Week each June.
4. PICNIC DAY HOLIDAY // AUSTRALIA
There are a couple stories as to how Australia got a national holiday dedicated to picnicking, but regardless of whether it dates back to the 1910s or 1940s, its Northern Territory celebrates Railway Heritage Picnic Day on the first Monday of each August. The holiday allows families a long weekend full of activities like dancing, tug-of-war, and lizard racing.
5. REAL GLASSWARE FOR WINE // FRANCE
If you intend to sip wine at a French picnic, don’t expect to do it from a red plastic cup. Even when the French dine outdoors, fine diningware—specifically stemware—is still often used to ensure wine tastes its best. That’s because the shape of a wine glass allows flavors and aromas to breathe instead of being stifled by a normal shaped cup. And you and your wine both deserve to breathe in the lovely fresh air.
6. NAKED FRISBEE // GERMANY
Picnics aren’t just for eating—there are games to be played, too. But Germans take it one step further by disrobing before competition. It’s not unusual for picnic activities like a friendly Frisbee toss, a few kicks of a soccer ball, or a quick swim to be done au natural. Freikorperkultur (Free Body Culture) encourages Germans to venture out and enjoy daily activities sans-clothing, and nudity is considered a cultural norm—even at picnics in public parks.
7. EATING CONTESTS // UNITED STATES
Many Americans use the summer holidays—Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day—as excuses to picnic. These gatherings also include competitive games like three-legged races and egg relays, but Americans pride themselves on a race of another sort: the food eating contest. The first one appeared in 1916 and pitted hot dog eaters against one another. That year, the winner ate 13 hotdogs at an Independence Day celebration in Coney Island. Now, picnickers and those hosting outdoor events often include contests for speed-eating pies or watermelons.
8. PICNIC TEA // NEW ZEALAND
Below the equator, New Zealanders have historically enjoyed outdoor meals with standard picnic foods like sandwiches and pies. But during the 19th century, picnics mimicked barbecues with whole-roasted oxen and baked potatoes cooked over fire pits. Afternoon tea was also a common everyday staple that needed to be included with any picnic, so it was prepared hot in a “billy”—a metal can with a wire handle. After the invention of the thermos, tea arrived at picnic sites pre-prepared, and it remains a common picnicking beverage.
9. KUBB // SCANDINAVIA
Croquet, soccer, and badminton are common picnic games, but in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, kubb is a regular game. The lawn game is a mix between bowling and chess, where players attempt to knock over wooden blocks called kubbs with wooden batons. Kubb players win by knocking over their opponents' smaller kubbs, followed by a large one called a king. And just like picnic games round the world, a good game of kubb can last a few minutes or several hours depending on skill level.
10. HERRING LUNCH // FINLAND
May Day offers Finland the opportunity to celebrate spring’s arrival with friends and family, and it tends to lead to some exceptionally exuberant parties and picnics. May Day celebrations begin on April 30, and by the first official day of May, many picnic-goers are looking for relief from overindulging the night before. Day-of meals are often called “herring lunch,” featuring pickled fish and other salty foods that supposedly cure hangovers, though Finns will wash it all down with a swig of schnapps. Hair of the dog, as they say.
11. BERRY PICKING // ICELAND
Not all picnics have to celebrate a holiday. Some are just for good fun and a day in the countryside. In Iceland, berry hunters often pack picnic lunches to take along on their search as berries ripen throughout the summer months. But besides the meats and cheeses, the most important ingredient for an Icelandic picnic is secrecy: Keeping berry picking spots under wraps means more for your own harvest.
12. GLAMOUROUS PICNICS // TURKEY
Turkey has a reputation for superb picnics, and it could have something to do with the country’s thousands of picnic grounds open to the public. Many Turkish families bring along cushions, rugs, and furniture to set up comfortable picnicking spots, along with games, string lighting, and a potluck-style selection of stuffed veggies, grilled meats, and desserts. By nighttime, many picnics are still going and turn into bonfires complete with music, dancing, and raki (a Turkish, licorice-flavored alcohol).
13. CHIMARRÃO // BRAZIL AND URUGUAY
Sharing a gourd of yerba mate (also called chimarrão) is a common practice among friends and family members in Brazil, Uruguay, and other South American countries, and takes place at picnics and other gatherings. One person will prepare the tea in a gourd or container with a straw, which is then passed around and refilled until the mate loses its flavor. Even though sharing chimarrão is among friends, there are rules: It is rude to break the circle and sip out of turn, or to wipe the straw before taking a sip.
14. KITE FLYING // GREECE
"Clean Monday" ushers in the start of Lent in Greece and brings about religious food restrictions. But, the holiday has its own special foods, such as mussels, octopus, and unleavened bread, that are shared at family picnics. Afterwards, families fly large, colorful kites to celebrate the day and mark the beginning of spring.
15. CEMETERY LUNCHES // WORLDWIDE
A Ukrainian family has a Sunday picnic at the grave of a loved one in Kiev.// Getty
Picnicking by the final resting places of friends and family isn’t confined to any one culture. Around the globe, friends and family have gathered in ceremonies to celebrate special occasions, holidays, and to remember deceased loved ones. During the Victorian Era, picnickers often set up lunch next to headstones, enjoying the cemetery as a recreational space for games and activities. In Mexico, those celebrating Día de los Muertos lunch among family gravesites, as do the Chinese during the annual Chung Yeung Festival honoring their ancestors. While cemetery lunching is less common in the modern U.S., some morticians and preservationists support its reemergence as a way to celebrate and enjoy life at all stages. After all, isn’t that what picnics are all about?
All photos via iStock unless otherwise noted.