Natale con i tuoi...Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with the 'rents - parents - Easter with whomever you choose) is always a nice way to look at the holidays in Italy. Many families stay home, delaying beach or snow vacations until after the 25th of December so they can break bread with others in their oft-extended families. The die-hards who really want a getaway, sometimes take mamma with them, in a case of killing two birds with one stone (and the benefit of free babysitting!) So you often see multi-generations enjoying the pool during your holiday vacation.
Comparing notes this Christmas with a (German) friend, we got around to the topic of card games and Tombola! (Italy's version of Bingo!) which, after imbibing in the big meal is a hallmark of the festivities. I remarked that the kids had won 20 euro off of me that day while playing Mercante in Fiera, a sort of bidding on cards that might turn up lucky once you've accumulated enough in your hand.
And it dawned on us both...how ironic that the celebration of the birth of Jesus was observed by heavy duty gambling, bartering and card dealing? I'm not sure where the tradition started...perhaps long before Alexander the Great decreed Christianity as the official religion...but, wasn't it Jesus who eventually threw the money changers out of the Temple? After losing more and more as the day grew on, I too, found my inner Jesus and wanted to go after the ones changing my money into theirs!
According to donna.tuttogratis.it, it was actually the Bourbon King of Naples who instigated Tombola...Reasoning that, by making it legal, they would do away with the dark underbelly of illegal gambling. And so it was that Tombola Neapolitana entered into the homes of all Italians and those immigrants to foreign lands. Leave it to the crafty neapolitans who love their traditions and you've got Tombola!