The origin of the word "picnic" is unclear. It first appeared in an English dictionary in 1748, and it probably derived from the French pique-nique.
A 17th-century French pique-nique may have been what we now think of as a potluck. In the 18th century, its American counterpart may have been more like a salon gathering. By the 19th century, though, it had become common for Americans to hold these events outside.
Although a picnic is usually a social event, the explorer Joseph Rock in 1910 captured this solitary setting among the pine forests in the foothills of Lijiang, China. (Related: "National Geographic Photography Milestones")
In the Desert
In this 1909 photograph, two campers picnic outside their tent in a desert in northern California against a wide expanse of western sky.
Japanese women remove their shoes and kneel for a picnic in 1913. Picnics in Japan are frequently centered on sharing not just food but also natural phenomena, such as the moon or the blooming of flowers.
Dining With Miss Bell
Gertrude Bell, a British writer, archaeologist, and colonial administrator, is best known for her role in establishing the modern state of Iraq after World War I. In this 1922 photograph Bell dines with British and Iraqi officials in the desert.
In 1937, picnickers dine under cloudy skies in a golden field in Thessaloniki, Greece. Though the field made for a nice picnic spot, it was once a malaria-ridden swamp.
Picnickers enjoy clear skies over Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, at a cookout in 1948.
A Gathering of Veterans
Five honored veterans of World War II enjoy a picnic near Lake Baikal, in Siberia, after a long day of digging potatoes in 1991. Typical of Russian rural picnics, this one ends with a song: Here it's one about the women's Ukrainian homeland.
Under the Apple Trees
Under the shade of a tree in an apple orchard, a family of migrant workers enjoys lunch in Yakima Valley, Washington, in 1978.
American picnics are also known by other names: clambakes, wiener roasts, cookouts, and barbecues, to name a few. In this 2008 photograph, campers at Kee-Nee-Moo-Sha resort on Woman Lake in Minnesota savor an evening potluck.
Picnic by the Sea
Two picnickers relax in 2009 on the eastern beach of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
La Tour Eiffel
Friends and sweethearts picnic in 2009 near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
Made in the Shade
A family shares a picnic in Poltava, Ukraine, in 2011.
A family takes a break from haymaking to share a meal in a village in Romania in June 2012. The haymaking season has just started and will last until mid-September. During the summer, families like this one wake up at 5 a.m. and work until sunset.
Morning Has Broken
Two campers have breakfast in 2013 as the sun rises over the Flathead River in Montana.