In Naples there are some things that can never be missed at Christmas. Among these is undoubtedly a good game of bingo with friends and family to brighten the festive days of the Christmas season.

Between eel, struffoli, codfish and reinforcement salad, who hasn't played bingo late into the night, maybe even winning a nice little nest egg?

A holiday staple for more than 300 years, this game is now a tradition centuries-old, not only Neapolitan. In fact, if in the beginning tombola was a typically Campanian custom, over time it has conquered the rest of d'Italy. Indeed, from the raffle was then born the so-called bingo, gambling very much in vogue in the United States.

The history of bingo

Tombola is one board games older and is perfect for bringing friends and family together for a fun evening, and can be played by people of all ages.

Everyone will have played bingo at least once, but how many have wondered how this game came about?

In fact, modern bingo, as we know it today, has very ancient roots and originated precisely in the 18th century, as a do-it-yourself alternative to the game of lot.

According to tradition, the game is said to have originated in 1734, following a heated argument between King Charles III of Bourbon and father Gregory Mary Rocco, a Dominican friar.

The debate between the two concerned the possibility of banning the game of lotto, which at that time was under the control of public authority. In addition, the morality of games of chance in general was also being questioned.

At that time in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies lotto was widespread and popular, especially in Naples. The king wished to make it legal in order to collect betting proceeds, while the friar was strongly opposed, arguing that the legalization of the lot would drive away the faithful from prayer.

Father Gregory Mary Rocco believed that all games of chance were immoral because they were contrary to the doctrine of the Church and therefore were to be banned or in any case not managed by public authorities.

On the other hand, the ruler thought it was necessary to have public control over the game so that, once banned, the lottery would not become an object of illegality and betting clandestine.

In the end, it was King Charles who came out on top, but he decided to suspend the game only at the Christmas as a form of respect for the church. In any case, the lot would remain under the control of the Crown, being able to play throughout the year.

In spite of the decision, Neapolitan families were not willing to give up the lotto over the holiday season and continued to play it, but at home! They began to organize to set up a domestic version of the lotto, which in a short time has become a real Christmas tradition.

I 90 numbers of the lotto game were placed inside the "panarielli", or small wicker baskets, and folders with drawn numbers were added to keep track of the draws.

In a nutshell, the raffle would be born out of a clever ploy put in place by the people of Naples to remedy the ban on playing the lotto during the holiday season.

But where does the name bingo?

On the origin of the word there are at least a couple of hypotheses: according to the first, the name is inspired by the Latin verb "tumbare", i.e., to twirl, referring to the gesture of shaking the panariello to draw numbers; a second hypothesis I think may come from the French verb "tomber" meaning to fall. Both hypotheses are based on terms that have the common root onomatopoeic "tumb," which recalls the noise Making the little wooden number coming out of the basket.

The rules of the bingo game

Bingo is technically a game of chance as its participants are obliged to pay a sum of money that will be redistributed as award. Today, Neapolitan tombola is played in purely family settings, and the sums pledged and won always have a mostly symbolic value (from 1 euro to a few cents).

A player is chosen as croupier and runs a main board on which all numbers ranging from 1 to 90 are shown. The person who runs the board has the panel containing the numbers to be drawn randomly.

The numbers should be announced aloud to the other players. Each player may have one or more folders purchased previously according to a predefined cash value.

Similarly, the player who holds the scoreboard must pay the amount for the 6 folders that together make up the scoreboard. The amount from the purchase of the various folders goes to define the prize money which is divided into prizes of increasing value.

Each game folder consists of 3 rows, on each of which there are 5 numbers. Whenever the number drawn is present on the folder/folder, the player must cover the corresponding box.

In classic bingo, the cards are printed cards, and the following can be used to mark the numbers drawn beans, lentils, chickpeas o shells by dried fruit o peel of mandarins. The aim of the game is to accomplish bingo, that is, to complete all the numbers on one of the cards first.

There are also intermediate awards such as theambo (2 numbers on the same line), terno (3 numbers on the same line), quatern (4 numbers on the same line) and cinquina (5 numbers on the same line).

The 90 numbers in Neapolitan culture

As mentioned, bingo is based on drawing numbers ranging from 1 to 90 and usually includes a system of humorous associations between numbers and meanings, as is the case with lotto.

This is the so-called Grimace, used to derive corresponding numbers from dreams. The tradition of the Neapolitan Smorfia is probably related to the myth of Morpheus, the dream god of ancient Greece or to the Jewish Kabbalah. Tombola borrowed these images that are now part of thecollective imagination.

Each of the 90 numbers is associated with a person, feeling or object in common life. There have been several additions or changes over time, and many numbers refer primarily to distinctive elements of the parthenopean culture.

For example, the number 68 is cooked soup, an obvious reference to the minestrone soup preparing for Christmas in Naples. Or the numbers 47 and 48, which respectively represent the dead and the dead man speaking, as in Neapolitan tradition the dead always have great significance.

Among the most Smorfia numbers famous there are:

1 - Italy

8 - The Madonna

13 - St. Anthony

17 - Misfortune

23 - The Idiot

25 - Christmas

32 - The eel

33 - The Christ Years

42 - Coffee

57 - The Hunchback

61 - The Hunter

71 - The mean man

75 - Punchinello

85 - Souls in Purgatory

90 - Fear

Also included among the figures matched to the 90 numbers are foods, folk crafts, religious figures and more. Today, many people still use the numbers of the Smorfia to interpret the dreams they have had and can then derive numerical combinations from them to play the lotto.

Bingo vs. American bingo

Few people know that it is from the Neapolitan tombola that the game of bingo originated. In fact, in the early twentieth century many Neapolitans emigrated to the United States in search of better luck, and to keep their roots alive, they exported bingo to America.

The name of the game, however, over time became bingo, a word derived from the expression "bean game", bean game, because the numbers on the cards were crossed out with these legumes. Tombola and bingo are apparently very similar, but still have differences.

The most obvious one relates to the awarding of prizes. Bingo is a home game and, in addition to the general jackpot, has intermediate prizes. On the other hand, however, in bingo there are winnings at less frequent intervals, but more conspicuous in economic amount.

Not surprisingly, bingo has remained confined to more familiar circles, while for bingo real public game rooms, as with other games of chance.

Going into the details of the game, another substantial difference concerns the numbers available. American bingo involves draws on 75 numbers, instead of the 90 of bingo. In addition to the numbers, the game cards also change. In bingo they can include up to 24 numbers, compared to 15 in our beloved bingo.

Finally, there are discrepancies in the drawing of numbers. In fact, in bingo there is a extraction officer who does not take part in the game, in contrast to bingo, where the board is given to players in rotation for each game.

In short, the comparison shows how bingo has remained a purely domestic game, unlike bingo, which has become a truly institutionalized game of chance.