Almost as important to the Spanish as the tradition of Christmas itself is El Gordo de Navidad lottery – “the fat one”!
One of the largest lotteries in the world, El Gordo is drawn on 22nd December each year in a televised programme that lasts around three hours! Two giant golden globes are spun until each one releases a wooden ball (one showing a ticket number and the other showing a prize value). The children from San Idelfonso School in Madrid then sing out the ticket number and prize to the cameras. This continues until all 1,807 prizes have been sung out and, for most Spaniards, this is when the spirit of Christmas comes alive for the year.
Tickets for the Christmas El Gordo are released for sale in July. Each ticket or billete has a five-figure number plus a serie number and there can be as many as 180 series of each number. Although tickets are priced at €200, most people buy one tenth of a ticket or a decimo priced at a more palatable €20. Some syndicates or companies may divide this decimo ticket further into participaciones or shares for their members or employees.
Most lottery outlets will choose to sell billetes and decimos belonging to a small selection of ticket numbers, which is why often you will hear in the news that one lucky village or town is home to all the winners of a particular ticket number’s allocated prize.
The first prize or El Gordo itself is €4,000,000 per serial number; second prize is €1,250,000 per serial number and third prize is €500,000 per serial number. There are many other prizes too ranging from €200,000 to €200 with the total payout equalling 70% of the income generated through ticket sales and one in ten people achieving a prize at least equal to their investment.
The El Gordo de Navidad lottery was first created in 1812 by a government minister aiming to generate income for the Spanish economy. 2012 represents the 200-year anniversary of this Spanish Christmas institution and is doubly important as it is the last time winners of prizes over €2.500 will receive their winnings tax free!
Children from San Idelfonso School “singing” the results