News & Events

CULTURE: TOMBOLA! An Italian Holiday Tradition

Date 12.17.2015

During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays one of the most popular games in Italy is la tombola (TOM-bola), which is more or less the same as Bingo. To play the game you must buy as many of the tombola boards as you want to. The price is usually 1 euro per board and the money is placed in a prize pool (it’s not mandatory to play for money). A person (croupier) draws and calls all the numbers. The croupier has a board with all the numbers from 1-90 in front of him/her and a container which he/she draws the numbers from. Players have to cover the whole board to win the pot. A bean or a piece of pasta is positioned on the top of the numbers as they are called. After a while inevitably, somebody sneezes or kicks the table and all the markers roll away!  The next ten minutes are spent shouting: “È uscito il 33? è uscito il 2?” (“Has number 33 been called? Has number 2 been called?” etc.), the game then  carries on as normal until the next starnuto (sneeze) or calcio (kick), which, more often than not, isn’t accidental!

In Naples (where the game originated in 1734) they’ve put an extra “touch” to the game. It’s called “la smorfia”, which means they add a symbol to the numbers. So number 4 is paired with ‘O puorco’ which in Italian means il maiale (pig). Number 25 = Natale (Christmas) and number 1 = Italia.

If you understand Italian you can click here to read more about “la smorfia” and the rules (regole del gioco) of the game.

Here is some of the vocabulary that is used when playing:
il tabellone: the board, which contains all the numbers from 1 to 90
la cartella: the score card, which contains 15 random numbers between 1 and 90
fare ambo: double, to get two numbers in the same row
fare terno tern: to get three numbers in the same row
fare quaterna: to get four numbers in the same row
fare cinquina: to get five numbers in the same row
fare tombola: to get all the numbers on the ‘cartella’

Tombola di Natale with “la famiglia Benvenuti” a popular show from 1969.