The Mythical Russian Picnic Blanket
Folktales can be told about almost anything, including objects, items, and ideas. Take this story about a legendary bit of cloth, for example. It is fantastical and wonderfully filled with promise. But one must know what to say and how to treat this special item or else…
The Russian magical blanket - Skatert-Samobranka - is a picnic cloth that performs miracles. With the utterance of a few special words it can be filled with food and drinks. This is good news for one who is very hungry or very eager to eat and drink.
Perhaps one of the best known versions of this story is “Who is Happy in Russia?” written by Nikolai Nekrasov.
In it there are seven Russian peasants who travel together all over the country. When they met people who live in rural areas they ask them if they are leading happy lives.
One time a small bird seeks help from the travelers to save her tiny chick. In return she promises to show them a white blanket that is enchanted. Supposedly it can provide them instantly with food and vodka if they very gently and softly request it to do so.
Once rolled back up the blanket can conveniently also make the food crumbs, plates and cups disappear.
There are, of course, geographic versions. In some instances it provides only the food items that have been requested and still in others it is more like a carpet.
However, in all cases courtesy and respect are also required from those who call upon the blanket. Or else, as some renditions suggest, the food crumbs will stain the blanket and spilled salt will forever make the food almost too salty to eat.
Also, these tales are imbued with a warning about the need to take care of this very special item. Blankets that develop rips and tears cease to offer up their magic.
Photo: Illustration for N.A. Nekrasov's tale.