Because if it is, millions in Spain will be in need of prayers for atonement come Christmas Day. Most Spanish people hold a small portion of a Christmas lottery ticket, even if they don’t gamble the rest of the year.
The Spanish Christmas Lottery (“Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad”) is the world’s biggest lottery, and has been running since 1812. The Christmas Lottery is based on tickets comprised of five-digit numbers, meaning they get printed out tens of times. Because each ticket costs 200 euros, the tickets are usually sold as tenths called ‘décimos’ with the payout being 10% of the prize. So popular is the event, many organizations buy tickets and divide them among employees and even customers as gifts. Perhaps the biggest indicator of how ingrained the Christmas Lottery is into Spanish society is the fact that the drawings have been performed according to the same unique procedure since 1812: pupils of the San Ildefonso school, which was formerly reserved as an orphanage for children of public servants, draw the numbers and corresponding prizes, and then sing the results in front of the public.
Unlike more contemporary gambling methods, mostly done on websites like PartyBingo individually and from the comfort of the gamblers’ home, the Christmas Lottery drawing is performed on live TV during the course of several hours (yes, hours! No instant gratification here, folks) and inevitably becomes a community social gathering. There are two vessels with wooden balls in them: one vessel contains the balls with the numbers while the other contains the wooden balls with the prizes (in euros) inscribed on them. As the drawing happens, one child sings a winning number and another sings the corresponding prize. This is done until all prize balls are connected to a number which takes hours as there are 1,807 prizes (don’t worry, the kids get breaks and work in shifts).
The ‘El Gordo,’ or the biggest prize, is the last to be drawn. Because most lottery outlets only sell one or two numbers, the winners usually either work in the same community, or work for the same organization. For example, in 2010, 414 million euros was won by Barcelona residents, with the remainder split among other areas.
This year, the biggest prize went to the residents of a small town in Alcala de Henares, a working class neighborhood with public housing and many immigrants. In a time of deep economic crisis, it’s heartwarming to see that the Spanish Christmas lottery perhaps more than ever brings much needed Christmas cheer and hope to those who need it the most.