LE FESTE – CELEBRATIONS
The Tombola season, which roughly begins the week of Christmas and ends on the Epiphany Jan. 6, will soon be ending. But you still have time to break out the board and pump up the volume on Nonno Dante’s hearing aid, so he can hear the numbers.
For those who don’t know, Tombola is Italian bingo. As with most things Italian, this game is far more colorful than the one Americans play. Each number on the board is equivalent to a symbol, and the images could not be more contradictory in nature. Alongside Sant’ Antonio (No. 13), you’ll find “il culo” (No. 16, and yes that’s a woman’s bare bottom depicted) among other nicer and naughtier images.
Italians have the board memorized and the numbers and symbols go hand in hand. Italia is numero uno, for example. Flashing the one pointer finger is often a way to communicate “Italy.” You get the idea of the cultural significance here. Capeesh?
I’ve written about Tombola and the meaning of each number for ItaliansRus. There, you will find a breakdown of each square on the board, which is enlightening as much as it is a psychoanalysis of the Italian people who created it.
In the meantime, let’s play Tombola. Discover the directions for every Italian’s favorite holiday game:
- Put yourself in charge of the game and be the one who calls out the numbers. Recognize that with great power comes great responsibility. Oh yes, we’re getting real here.
- Gather your guests around a table and randomly dole out individual Tombola cards. Make sure to shuffle the deck and hand them out turned over, images face down. Why? Well, because Zia Rosina is definitely going to accuse you of cheating by purposely handing winning cards over to Zio Nunzio. This will be your defense.
- Make sure all the wooden number chips are in the jug and give the jug a few good shakes in front of the group of players.
- Decide if you’re playing for money or beans or plain ol’ fun. To be honest, most Italian families I know play for change and wouldn’t have it any other way. They want to pick winners and pick on losers, so playing for fun is out of the question.
- Remind Cousin Leo that the game is played with his clothes on before he starts taking off his pants. This ain’t strip poker or strip Tombola. There’s always one in the group. Always.
- Don’t lose your mind when Nonna Agnese asks you to repeat Diciassette Disgrazia for the hundredth time and still hears Diciannove Risata (which she actually has on her Tombola card as opposed to the latter).
- Pass around the vino and snacks while you’re playing. Italians don’t do any kind of celebrating without vino and snacks. If you don’t hand over the goods, your guests will talk badly about you. Truth. As my cousin says, “We bring the prosciutto.” Indeed, we better bring the prosciutto or else there are consequences.
- Keep your eye on Zio Felice, who is notorious for winning at all costs. Make sure he doesn’t turn off Nonno’s hearing aid or throw Zia’s winning numbers under the table when she’s not looking. These crimes have taken place under my watchful eye, and it’s not pretty when people catch on. Trust me. Yet, if I had videotaped it and published the dang thing on YouTube, I’d probably be a zillionaire by now. Sigh.
- Every so often look at the players’ cards to see if anyone has unwittingly won the game. Remind them to shout, “Tombola,” if they have completed a full row – horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
- It’s your job to keep the peace when the arguments about who really won breaks out. In the old days, I would have turned on the likes of Mike Bongiorno or Pippo Baudo as a way of distracting the restless natives. Nowadays, I just get out of the way and let them duke it out. At least, I get a show out of it.
Buon Befana a tutti!
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For more handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.