The Origins of "El Gordo" the Spanish Christmas Lottery

With the Holiday season right around the corner, everyone is thinking about gifts and caroling. And while all this also happens in Spain, there’s another event that somehow has become an institution that initiates the Christmas festivities. It’s known as El Gordo de La Lotería (Or The Fat Lottery) and happens every 22nd of December in Spain.

This tradition has been taking place continuously since 1812 and it’s the second oldest lottery in the world. The National Christmas Lottery was first introduced by the Courts of Cadiz with the goal of “increasing public funding without affecting the economy of those who participated,” explains the Organization of Lottery in Spain (known as ONLAE.)

In spite of its initial purpose, Spanish people welcomed this new tradition to the point where it’s become somewhat of an institution. While the location of the event has changed over the years, it has run without any interruption even through the Spanish Civil war and dictatorship afterward.

Breaking down the process

Spaniards wait with anticipation for the arrival of December 22 and the announcement of the winning number, which has an estimated value of 4 million Euros. But, all in all, over 2 billion Euros are given in winning prizes throughout the day.

Do you know what is the process followed for this unique lottery? Or how the numbers are “sung”?

Th ONLAE prints 18 million tickets –known as billetes in Spanish- with five digits that range from #00000 through #99999. Since only 100,000 tickets would be issued, the organization prints several copies of the same number, which is known as a series. From this series, you may purchase a single ticket for the price of 20 Euros, or the entire series.

The Christmas lottery is so popular that even those who normally don’t participate in other lotteries throughout the year still want to have their chance at winning La Lotería de El Gordo. It’s also common to buy tickets in different parts of the country or sharing them with family and friends to increase the odds of winning.

What happens on December 22nd

With anticipation and excitement, millions of Spaniards turn on their TVs on December 22 to see the results of the lottery.

While the event has changed locations over the years, the process remains intact: all the participating numbers are introduced in a big rotating drum and the prizes in a smaller one.

The people in charge of announcing the winning numbers, or “singing” them as if they were part of a choir, are the kids from San Ildefonso school, where most of them are orphans. A table is filled with all the numbers they call, and the anticipation builds until El Gordo, the big prize, is shouted by these children.

It is then when the audience at the Sports Palace in Madrid and millions of people across Spain burst into tears of excitement. Quickly, the media goes to the branch where the winning ticket was sold to interview the store clerk and some of the winners.

You never know how long it’s going to take until the winning prize is called, sometimes it’s early in the raffle, while other times it takes hours. But the sentiment is always the same: cheer and excitement.

Superstition across country

There’s a common belief across the country that certain branches are luckier than others, and that’s why thousands of people will travel miles to buy their tickets from these places.

These are the most popular branches in Spain:

Doña Manolita or Mrs. Manolita (Madrid)

It’s the branch in Spain that has sold more first prizes in the history of the Christmas Lottery. As a local newspaper states, "it’s so popular that it sells over 67 million tickets each year."

El Gato Negro or The Black Cat (Barcelona)

Don’t be fooled by the name. The Black Cat is the most popular branch in Barcelona. Leave superstition aside and believe in this place’s good luck as it became a very popular branch in the 60s with a continuous winning streak.

La Bruixa d’Or or Golden Witch (Lleida)

This is one of the most popular branches of the country. Located in Catalonia, it’s clear that the little Golden Witch has a trick or two under her sleeve as it’s provided several winning prizes over the years.

If you choose to visit Spain during the Holiday season, this could be a fun event to participate in and, who knows, you may end up being one of the lucky winners.

For most Americans, however, the Holiday season is about spending time at home with family and friends. From Infinity Insurance, we wish you a joyous season with your loved ones.

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