What is Tombola? The Italian Christmas Game! | ELLCI

What is Tombola? The italian game for Christmas

what is tombola

What is Tombola? The italian game for Christmas

What is tombola? This Italian game has a long tradition and it is the typical entertainment of the holidays.

Christmas day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve dinner cenone and all those occasions when you find yourself spending a lot of time around the table with relatives and friends, are the best days to play tombola.

It will be to have one more excuse to stay at the table and continue eating between one break and another, the game of tombola is the great protagonist of holidays gatherings, from north to south Italy.

Tombola is the Italian equivalent of international bingo. It includes a billboard with numbers from 1 to 90 and cards with random numbers in 15 boxes that are assigned to the players.

Each player can have one or more cards for which participants are required to pay a sum of money, or other symbolic goods. The sum of money is then redistributed as a prize to the winners.

A player with the role of dealer is in charge of extracting the numbers from 1 to 90 contained in a cup or bag. The more experienced are able to associate each number with the Neapolitan Smorfia (can be translated as grimace) that associates the numbers from 1 to 90 with images and characters, often humorous.

When a number is drawn each player checks his cards and covers the corresponding box.

Tombola is a very democratic game because it can also be played with artisanal means. You can create the board with a poster and a marker, same thing for the tombola’s cards.

The numbers are then covered with beans, chickpeas, lentils, pasta or Christmas dinners leftovers such as dried fruit shells.

The absolute winner of the game is whoever makes the tombola, or who is the first to cover all the numbers on one of their cards.

Before getting to the tombola, however, other players can also win smaller prizes.

Intermediate results are obtained by covering two or more numbers on the same row. Thus we have the ambo with two numbers, the terno with three numbers on the same line, the quaterna with four numbers, the cinquina with all five numbers in a row, and the decina or rampazzo that is two complete rows in the same folder. Sometimes a prize is also assigned to the so-called tombolino, or to the second participant that complete a full tombola card.


Tombola game: history and traditions

what is tombola

The game of tombola was born in Naples in 1734. The king of Naples and Sicily, Charles III of Bourbon wanted to make the lotto game (lottery) public, which had hitherto been clandestine in the Kingdom. The idea was to formalize it in order to be able to tax it and thus ensure a substantial source of income.

The Dominican friar Gregorio Maria Rocco, however, opposed the game of the lottery considered a “deceptive and amoral delight”. Father Rocco had a great influence on the Neapolitan people, so much so that according to Alexander Dumas he was “more powerful in Naples than the mayor, the archbishop and even the king”.

Eventually Charles III managed to legalize the game of the lottery, as long as the game was suspended during the Christmas holidays, so as not to distract the faithful from prayer.

The game of the lottery was so widespread in Neapolitan habits that they did not want to give up playing, so they adapted the lotto to a board game with a familiar character.

Lotto and tombola continue to be very popular in Italy. The lotto is a gambling game that consists in the extraction of five numbers between 1 and 90, whoever guesses at least one wins.

Guessing the numbers is an activity associated with superstition and the interpretation of dreams. This is why the Smorfia,

neapolitan smorfia

or the association of images and meanings to each number, has also become very famous together with the lotto game. It is believed that dream images are to be interpreted to understand which numbers to play. For example, if you dream of a cat, you will have to play 3, 22 if you are dealing with a “crazy”, 58 if you have received a gift.

The smorfia has a very ancient tradition that goes back to the Jewish Kabbalah and for many this text represents the key to becoming a millionaire.

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