For many Greeks, the new year will not go well if they don’t play cards on New Year’s Eve. And if they do play cards and lose, then the new year will be full of bad luck. But if they win, they will be happy as can be.
Folklorist Gerasimos Rigatos explains that the word Greeks use for the deck of cards is “trapoula”, an Italian word (trappola) that means trap, fraud, deceit. A deck of cards, he says, can be found in most homes, rich and poor. Since New Year’s Eve is a “transition period” holiday, the passing of one year to the next, we want to welcome the new period with a game of cards, sweets, wine and so on, Rigatos says.
For the winner, the new year will be lucky. But even the loser in the game of cards, the folklorist says, is optimistic: For there is a Greek saying: “The one who loses in the game of cards, wins in love”. So everyone leaves the table happy in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
The folklorist says that since 1884 and until a few decades ago, the decks of cards were a Greek State monopoly. Only the government could manufacture decks of cards and sell them. There was a certain hefty levy on card decks which was to pay certain loans after the Greek government’s bankruptcy at the end of the 19th century.
Up until a few years ago, when lotteries and football betting were a state monopoly, the Greek State also contributed to the custom of gambling on New Year’s Eve with the National Lottery, where the drawing was held on that night and the amounts won were higher than the regular, weekly lotteries.
More importantly though, sitting on the table to play cards the night before the first day of the new year, was an opportunity for family and friends to sit together at the table and enjoy each other’s company. After all, in most cases, the amounts of money on bet are so little that are merely symbolic and can hardly qualify as real gambling.