Posted on: 16 Dec 2011
Written by: chris
Today’s Christmas blog features Spain. In something of a departure for this series, I’m not going to attempt to sum up a range of typical Spanish Yule customs, but instead I’ll focus on one particular festive obsession in Spain - the national Sorteo de Navidad Christmas lottery, commonly (although technically incorrectly, I understand) referred to as El Gordo – ‘The Fat One’.
El Gordo – technical accuracy be darned, I say – is a festive government cash-in scheme with a surprisingly long heritage, having been run every year since 1812. Yes, you read right, that’s nearly TWO HUNDRED YEARS. With a total prize pool currently in excess of – wait for it – two billion euros, it’s the biggest lottery in the world. One way or another, an astonishing 98% of all Spaniards are estimated to have a stake by the time the draw itself rolls around.
Tickets go on sale as early as the summer (allegedly to to take advantage of the summer holiday feel-good factor) and are finally drawn, amid a media feeding frenzy, on the morning of December 22nd in a fiendishly long-winded process (involving teams of singing school children working in shifts – you couldn’t make it up, could you?) taking over three hours. Unlike most lotteries, though, the focus isn’t on a single huge prize: there are typically thousands of winners, who pocket sums ranging from tens up to hundreds of thousands of euros.
If all this has whetted your appetite for buying a ticket, be prepared for some head-scratching. The easy bit first: El Gordo is more of a traditional raffle than a lottery, since you’re buying a numbered ticket rather than attempting to predict, say, a series of numbers on balls. There are nominally 85,000 unique ticket numbers out there, but each of these numbers is divided into 180 billete (series), and each billete is further divided into ten décimos. You can buy a décimo for €20; whole billete are often bought by organisations and shared out between their customers or employees. Any winnings are of course divided accordingly between the relevant ‘shareholders’ in accordance with the value of their own individual stake.
Oh, and if you’re thinking this all has plenty to do with capitalism but has precious little actual connection with Christmas… you’re wrong. Every lottery ticket (yes, including the ones sold to summer holidaymakers) bears a picture of a religious Christmas scene. Shame on you for being so cynical.