Christmas celebrations in Italy
If you’ve celebrated Christmas in Italy, you know it’s a twelve day party starting on the Vigilia (December 24 ) and ending late into the evening of the Befana (January 6). Food and family may be the events every day and evening, but we do have to take a break. So what do we do in between? We play cards.
After every meal, the table is cleared, the carte napoletane are out and somebody is checking the score to see who’s a sharp and who is just plain lucky.
No Italian home is complete without a deck of carte napoletane. Did you know that an Italian pack contains only 40 cards? And the four suits are nothing like you’d expect. Our cards are designed with our history in mind.
Each suit represents an object from the medieval era – denari (coins), spade (swords), coppe (cups), and bastoni (clubs) – and is a subtle discussion on the socio-economics of the time. Denari means merchants and bourgeoisie, spade celebrates nobility and warriors, coppe is a nod to clergy and priests, while bastoni is for farmers. With ten cards in each suit, cards show from one object to seven, and then three face cards: fante (knave), cavaliere (knight), and re (king).
the money card
Everybody loves denari. It’s the money card literally. Denari are ten cards featuring golden coins. We love them so much that a few of them have special names – asso bello (beautiful ace) and sette bello (beautiful seven).
Denari bring smiles to anyone who gets one. The first seven cards are decorated simply with golden coins, each with a smiling sun on the coin face, while the fante, cavaliere and hold a large coin in hand. But what does it mean? Denari are an augury of good luck as it symbolizes wealth – not just material, but emotional and spiritual prosperity.
Don’t worry if you haven’t been dealt a hand of denari. The remaining suits also have significant meanings. Coppe symbolises family, friendship, love, and happiness. Spade symbolises justice and power. Bastoni symbolises work, willpower, and sensuality.
keeps you on your toes with good luck just in time for our favourite holiday tradition – giocchi da carte (card games). The Friù loafer, or Friuliana,is a symbol of Venice, originally worn by gondoliers and is entirely handcrafted by artisans who’ve stitched one coin to celebrate denari.
We want you to join us for some fun and Italian tradition so we snuck in a pack of Modiano’scarte napoletane with each pair of Denari friulani. You can slip into our loafers for some buona fortuna and good vibes.
Christmas card games
So you want to play cards? Here are three of our favourite traditional Christmas card giochi di carte.
Mercante in Fiera
Mercante in Fiera means “merchant at the fair) and is essentially an auction (requiring two decks). The mercante (merchant) offers cards “for sale” but players guess what they are and make an offer with monetine (pennies). Large numbers can play.
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Tresette is a game for four players who can team up but absolutely no verbal communication is allowed. Instead players can communicate by knocking on the table, dropping a card or sliding a car. (FYI legend has it that the game was invented by four mutes). The basic strategy to get as many assi (aces) as possible as they have the highest point value.
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Sette e mezzo
Seven and a half is the name of the game, and also the score that wins. It’s a quick and easy game, but completely addictive. Seven and a half is considered an evergreen at the Italian Christmas table, played after dinner with friends and family. Discover the rules here: