- "I kept telling myself if I could only hold out until May, just May 8th, I would turn twelve and be able to sign up for the tesserae and get that precious grain and oil to feed us."
- ― Katniss[src]
Tessera (plural: tesserae) is a form of voluntary food rationing, offered by the government of Panem to people in the districts. If a family is struggling for food, children between the ages of 12 and 18 - those eligible to participate in the Hunger Games - can sign up for tesserae. A single tessera is worth one year's supply of grain and oil for a single person, collected on a monthly basis. The child may also claim further tesserae for as many members of their family as needed. Depending on the family and their particular circumstances, tesserae may or may not be enough to live on, and alternate sources of food - sometimes acquired illegally - may also need to be pursued.
While tesserae is vital to many families in the districts, it comes at a heavy price: In exchange for this extra food, the child's name will be added to the reaping balls an additional time for every tessera claimed that year. These entries are also cumulative, so if tesserae must be claimed year after year, the chances of being reaped can increase dramatically, depending on the number of people that must be fed.
Tessera grain is apparently unrefined, as it is described as dark and dense.
In the districts
The practice of exchanging reaping entries for tesserae is mainly claimed in the poorer districts such as Districts 10, 11 and 12, while far less common in richer districts such as Districts 1, 2 and 4. The largest gap is between Districts 1 and 12, with ratio of more than 1:500. District 12 is considered the poorest district since it has the most amount of people taking tesserae. District 1 is considered the richest district since it has the fewest amount of people taking it. It is a possibility that children in Career districts take tesserae in order to get their name added into the reaping ball more times. This is unlikely however because most tributes from the Career districts are volunteers. Most years, you get a Career volunteer, which could upset the person who was chosen, and they could possibly fight, like Clove did with the original tribute for the 74th Hunger Games.
Characters taking tesserae
The series' main character, Katniss Everdeen of District 12, has taken tesserae for each of the 3 members of her family (herself, her mother, and Primrose Everdeen, her sister) every year since she turned 12. This has given her three extra entries in the reaping per year, with a total of 20 by the time of the reaping for the 74th Hunger Games, at age 16. At the same reaping, Katniss' friend, Gale Hawthorne, age 18, had a total of 42 tesserae entries: one for each of the 5 members of his family (Rory, Posy, Vick, his siblings, and Hazelle Hawthorne, his mother). During Catching Fire, things in District 12 get so dire that Rory is forced to take tesserae, to Hazelle and Gale's discomfort. Gale would have six tessarae as Katniss would have four if it weren't for the mine explosion that killed both their fathers.
During Catching Fire, because of food shortages, children in District 12 who took out tesserae never received the grain they were due, owing to the disruptions of the rebellion.
- Tessera takes its name from a kind of tiny, cube-shaped tile; colored gold and ebony, they were apparently used as decorative elements in the homes of wealthy Capitol families before the outbreak of the First Rebellion. On reaping day of the 10th Hunger Games, in which he served as a mentor, Coriolanus Snow wore a shirt whose buttons had been fashioned from recycled tessera tiles.
- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Chapter 1