This year, for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner games, I made a personalized Mercante in Fiera.

Mercante in Fiera (Merchant at the Fair) is a traditional Italian Christmas game played with illustrated cards representing iconic characters (they vary from place to place, from edition to edition, so they’re quite a few).

You can buy your cards on Amazon, here.

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mercante in fiera game rules

Basically, you have two decks with 40 different cards, replicated in both decks with the back in two different colors.

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The game begins by blindly selecting the three to six (every family has its own rules) winner cards from the first deck. Each one representing the first prize, the second, etc. The other cards are set aside.

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To participate in the game, you must pay an entrance fee: this gives you the right to get your first card (again, it can be one or more cards, depending on family rules). The auctioneer can play too, by paying this fee and settling for one card.

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The game continues with an auction where the “merchant” offers hidden packs of cards from the second deck (where the equivalent of the winning cards are). He puts the cards (or one card, it might happen) in an empty box and shakes it for participants to guess how many cards he’s offering. As in an actual auction, you offer as much money as you can (we are talking pennies, usually, cause it’s a family game). If you offer enough, you get the cards and jealously keep them within you.

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Once the auction is over, the merchant puts together all the money he’s collected and distributes it proportionally as the prizes for the winning cards.

It is now time to discover which are the winning cards. So the “merchant” takes back the first deck of cards (the one from which the winning cards were taken) and one at the time announces the “looser” cards. While this happens, participants get sad, mad, frustrated. They bargain the remaining cards, and of course, the closer you get to the end of the list, the higher prices get. I’ve seen people offering gifts, favors, services for the card of their cousin or son!

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Once the losing cards are over, there are only five (three or six or whatever) cards on the table that will get a prize. And bargaining continues: gambling on what might be the first prize card, people still exchange or buy cards from someone else, especially if theirs are gone.

The game ends when the merchant reveals the winning cards, from the last place to the first one.

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 Can you believe this game exists since the eighteenth century and that it is still one of the most played games during the winter holidays?


personalized mercante in fiera

As mentioned, the cards are illustrated with funny and bizarre figures, inspired by nature, pop characters, and everyday objects. So I made a family version of it: members of the family and their nicknames or peculiarities; objects that have a story (U Babà!); episodes of the past year (The Accident), etc.

Can’t wait for the auction to begin. And maybe have a little zabaglione while playing..

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Have a sweet and cozy Christmas and enjoy playing Mercante in Fiera with your family and friends!


all about Christmas in Italy

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