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In contemporary usage, picnic can be defined simply as a pleasure excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors, ideally, taking place in a beautiful landscape.

Formerly, the term picnic described an entertainment at which each person contributed some dish to a common table (potluck) in a public fashion. The first usage of the word picnic was traced to a 16th century French text, describing a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. A theory has it that the word picnic is based on the verb 'piquer' which means 'pick' or 'peck' with the rhyming nique perhaps added in half reminiscence of the obsolete 'nique', meaning 'trifle'.

The 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage, which mentions 'piquenique' as being of recent origin, marks the first appearance of the word in print. The word picnic first appeared in English texts in the mid-1700s. The English may have picked it up via the German version: Picknick.

Historically picnics have developed and manifested themselves in various forms. After the French Revolution in 1789 the royal parks became for the first time open to the public and picnicking there became a popular activity amongst the newly enfranchised citizens.

Early in the 19th century a fashionable group of Londoners formed the 'Picnic Society'. Members met in the Pantheon on Oxford Street. Each member was expected to provide a share of the entertainment and of the refreshments with no one particular host. Interest in the society waned in the 1850s as the founders died.

The image of picnics as a peaceful social activity can be utilised for political protest too. In this context picnic functions as a temporary occupation of significant public territory. A famous example of this is the Paneuropean Picnic held on both sides of the Hungarian / Austrian border on the 19th of August 1989 as part of the struggle to reunify Germany (see Berlin Wall). Homepage of Paneuropean Picnic .

In the year 2000 a 600 miles long picninc took place from coast to coast in France to celebrate the first Bastille Day of the new Millennium. In the United States, likewise, the 4th of July celebration of American independace is a favorite picnic day.

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