Christmas is a family business. We all know it, we all claim to hate it, we all love it deep inside. The food, the warmth, the fact that your family is trying to get together at least this one time of the year – as fake as some of you might say it is – is something to rejoice for and which personally makes me happy every year. For the lucky ones who have families and people who care about them, this is a moment where you can feel love and where you can actually spread love around, relax and think about all the good things in your life.
For me, Christmas is one of the few times I get to see my family, as I usually live abroad for the rest of the year. This makes it extra special for me, which is why it’s probably (who am I kidding? It is for sure) my favourite holiday of the whole twelve months. I also get to see my friends, revel in the warmth of my country for a little while and get back to my old life if only for a few days. It’s a magical time and I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world.
When it comes to Italy, the Christmas family business gets specifically serious. Best food in the world, hello? Imagine any other Christmas dinner amplified by x1000.
When you’re Italian and you’re nearing the Christmas holidays, you know to get on a diet. I’m sure every person in the world is familiar with this feeling: Christmas lunches and dinners are famous for being a dietician’s worst enemy, with food piling on food placed on other mountains of food and no excuse good enough to avoid the carbs overload. However, when your country is world famous for its exceptional cuisine and your grandma is the stereotypical small, old, fat woman who spends her whole life cooking for her nephews, you know we’re talking serious business here. The Italian Christmas is savage. We have the antipasti (starters), two to three “primi” (primary dishes – usually pasta or similar), just as many “secondi” (second dish – usually something like meat or fish), additional sides because lord have mercy if someone is still hungry, desserts, fruit and obviously, last but not least, our good old espresso. We also like to accompany the end of the meal with what we call “digestives”, our fancy name for liqueurs – such as grappa – which are supposed to help your digestion (not to be confused with the UK biscuits).
In short, a single lunch is bound to make you feel full, disgusted at yourself and slightly ill, probably enough to keep you away from the food for the next couple of days. Except you can’t, because dinner is waiting and tomorrow is another festivity that you cannot escape from.
As bad and slightly creepy as this all might sound, I actually love it and it’s something all of us get used to through childhood and actually learn to expect each year. The copious amounts of food are then accompanied by an ever wider array of board games, destined to bring the family together and entertain the kids as they wait for their presents (or for the next round of food). The grandparents also revel in the games because of the monetary side of it.
The most popular game – that literally every single person in Italy knows and plays during Christmas – is called tombola. Some of the relatives love it, others try to divert the attention to another game every single year, but sooner or later you will have to play it. Failure to comply to the plan will ruin the Christmas completely.
The game basically consists in each player selecting as many “cards” as they wish, each containing a specific set of numbers from 1 to 90. Each card is different so that no one can have the same set of numbers. One player will have to use what we call the “tabellone”, which is a big card with each single number on it. This player will have the duty to extract the numbers from a bag and will have a chance to win themselves.
A “price” for each card will be stipulated by the players, which will then be payed to the “banker” of the game. The tabellone contains 6 cards which all need to be payed, making it quite “expensive” but fun for who is doing it. All the money will then be assembled to create 4 to 5 prizes, depending on the habits of the family playing. In my case, my family always plays with 5 prizes: ambo, terno, quaterna, cinquina e tombola. These mean two, three, four or five consecutive numbers have been extracted on the same card and on the same horizontal line, or the maximum win has been achieved: tombola, meaning all numbers on the card have been extracted.
As complicated as it might sound, this game is actually very simple and is bound to bring the whole family together, as well as possibly making someone fall asleep or causing feuds between people who “mysteriously” always win and people who never do (cheating accusations will be flying over the table, so make sure you’re not winning too much if you don’t wanna risk assassination by grandma). It’s also a fun and engaging way to lose your last remaining money after all the Christmas gifting process (am I the only one?). How good does that sound! 🙃
But it’s okay. As we Italians say, “unlucky in the games, lucky in love”, so I’m fine with that. In case you’re single though, apart from the usual “How’s school going dear?” “So no boyfriend this year?”, beware as you will also be accompanied by a stinging “you’re so unlucky at this game, you should be lucky with love at least!”, accompanied by your aunt’s laughter and extreme desolation on your side. Not saying this has happened to me…….
Unfortunately, this year my festivities weren’t as big as usual. The table is usually formed by my family, my grandparents and my aunt and uncles together with their children, but this year they weren’t able to participate which left only us, my grandparents as well as my sister’s boyfriend sharing the fun, for a total of 7 people. It wasn’t the busiest Christmas, but for once we celebrated it in our own house instead of my grandparents’, which was new and kind of refreshing. It also meant I didn’t have to get properly dressed to leave the house, which was a major plus. Definitely a different Christmas, but still a good one that I might have even enjoyed more than usual. I’ve come to realise I enjoy home way more with the prospect of going back to the Netherlands rather than when I have to get back to Aberdeen.. 🤔
All in all, Christmas is a beautiful holiday which makes me miss home and makes me feel really glad to be back for a short while. All the sparkling lights, the mums stressed because they have so much to cook and even the rush to get presents for your loved ones are things which put me in a good mood like nothing else can. It’s also nice to receive a nice message from friends wishing you a merry christmas and knowing that someone out there is thinking of you.
Personally, I’m not really about the presents – I like thoughtful things which show me people actually know me, not something random just to have a gift. Because it’s not about the gift, it’s about the gesture, really, so spending money on me with no thought behind it is pointless. I love Christmas because of something more, because of the feeling of home and family attached to it, because of all my childhood memories and because I feel like, as distant as we might be, we are all living the same experience and there is nothing which can bond us more than that.
So to all of you, I wish an amazing, happy Christmas and I hope you’re spending it with someone you love. I also hope you are devouring all that good stuff that’s on your plate. Now I’m gonna go back to my family because a new round of food is waiting…