The Winter Picnic Tradition

This time of year is all about tradition, and while my family usually eschews doing something simply because it’s always what has been done, we do have one thing that stands out. For over four generations now, a tradition started in the frozen tundra of western Ohio has continued: the annual family winter picnic.

First started by my Great-Grandfather Henry Shook, every winter he would gather the family to Mohican State Park for a campout, and on the following morning would cook an enormous breakfast and a roaring fire to make up for all the shivering done the previous night. At first, my grandmother thought they were insane to spend a weekend in the freezing cold, but either through Stockholm Syndrome or genuinely enjoying it, she came to love it and my family has continued the tradition ever since.

While traditionally done in the winter, our annual picnic really happens when we feel like we need a day away. It used to be, when my aunt lived in Pawley’s Island, we would all meet halfway at Pointsett State Park outside of Sumter Air Force Base anytime of the year; spring, summer, fall, winter, it didn’t matter. Most recently, we merged Thanksgiving and our picnic at Kings Mountain State Park. The formula follows a basic list.
1. Find a picnic shelter that has a fireplace and preferably a few walls to block the wind.
2. Bring more food than you think possible to eat. My grandmother usually figures that every person can consume about 6lbs of food and cooks accordingly.
3. Anything that can make your day more comfortable must be brought: camp chairs, hammocks, pillows, heated blankets, music, etc. must be brought. This isn’t an epic adventure; this is a chance for you to hang out with people who you enjoy being around (and if that doesn’t happen to be family, pick a close group of friends instead).


Finding a suitable picnic shelter is harder than you might expect….rather, it was, until the invention of the internet. Now, you can search through state park websites to find which areas have shelters which usually include pictures; failing that, a quick Google Images search usually turns up entire scrapbooks of evidence that will help you plan. Are the walls not solid, allowing winds and possibly rain or snow to blow in? A few tarps fastened on the outside of the walls are perfect for trapping heat inside and insulating from the cold outside. Another point would be to bring firewood if you know there won’t be any when you arrive; it will almost certainly be cheaper than buying it wherever you’re staying, and you can also do things like bring stacks of wooden pallets to be broken down and burned.


Food ….there’s no point. You live in South Carolina, and probably can out write me in anything food or drink related. Bring a lot and eat well; point made.


Points 3 and 4 seem to go together, but they’re actually very separate ideals. While you should bring anything that you think will make the day more enjoyable, you should also relax and not feel like you must use it; if you’ve ever been forced to play Monopoly, you know what I’m talking about. Unlike some Luddites who say that for you to fully enjoy being outside you must turn off anything that isn’t powered by a potato, I have even brought a TV and DVD player with me while camping in the winter simply because it’s too bloody cold to do anything else. That, and movies seem to be funnier when you’re exhausted from trying to stay warm all day.


Traditions can be a wonderful thing that connects us not only to our own past, but the past of people before us. Just remember that every tradition had to start somewhere, and surely not all of them made sense when it started. How else can you explain how for 11 months out of the year mothers fuss at children for tracking leaves inside but on the 12th month bring a whole tree indoors?

Merry Christmas Everyone –
The Shooks


One thought on “The Winter Picnic Tradition

  1. I love this idea. I think we tend to hunker down inside in the winter, when more than ever, with the daylight in short supply, we yearn for the outdoors. Now that I have young children, I definitely see the value of traditions. This is a great one we may try. Thanks!

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