Translated by Alanna Quintyne

Do you know Tombola: a Traditional Christmas Game? It is played in every Italian family! And in the following article called precisely “Tombola: the Christmas Game”, I will discuss it.

Learn more about it by reading this article and if you want to get a little present, make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to get a printable tombola! :)

What is the one thing that brings entire families together around il tavolo (the table) at Christmas time? No, I’m not talking about the food! That would have been too easy, and in that case, I would have said around la tavola (the table).

Actually, the correct answer is tombola. It is the classic of classics and every typical Italian family after Christmas lunch stays at the table to indulge in discussions, laughter and games.

The Origin of Tombola

It may seem strange to you, but this typical game of the Christmas period, a period that by definition makes everyone feel good, is the result of an argument. This quarrel occurred long ago in 1734 and had as protagonists on one side King Charles III of Bourbon and on the other side the monk Gregorio Maria Rocco.

The argument between the two was born of a difference in intentions. Since the game of lotto was widespread not only in Naples but also throughout the Kingdom, the King wanted to make it legal to collect money from bets. The monk, however, feared that this legalization desired by the King would have distanced the faithful from worship.

The matter was resolved with an agreement: during the Christmas holidays, the game would be suspended. Neapolitans, on the other hand, were not enthusiastic about the decision made, and thanks to their initiative they began to gather in their homes to continue playing.

Tombola is a game where one must accumulate the most numbers. This collection of numbers is a gradual process, with the goals to be achieved being:

  • Ambo: (2 numbers in the same line)
  • Terna: (3 numbers in the same line)
  • Quaterna: (4 numbers in the same line)
  • Cinquina: (5 numbers in the same line)
  • Tombola: (all the numbers in one box).

But where do these numbers come from?

The 90 numbers are contained in a bag and are drawn at random.

The most fun thing of all, perhaps more than the victory itself, is that during the game we trick others into thinking that we have made an ambo or a terna. Another very fun thing is that each of the 90 numbers corresponds to a precise symbol (la smorfia), and every time a new number is drawn, we have fun saying its meaning.  

Some numbers that come to mind are, for example:

  • 1 = L’Italia (Italy)
  • 33 = Gli anni di Cristo (Christ’s age)
  • 77 = Le gambe delle donne (Women’s legs)
  • 90 = La paura (Fear)


Good company, good food, and a peaceful atmosphere are the things that cannot be missing if you want to have an amazing Christmas. If we add traditional games, such as cards and tombola, to all of this, then we’re all set; we can experience a traditional Italian Christmas. 

Do you celebrate Christmas in your country? What traditions do you have? Are there any games, such as tombola, that you play exclusively at Christmas time? Write it down in the comments. I can’t wait to hear about it!

ilaria firma

Listen to this episode in Italian! You can find the script here!

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