Traditions of the Spanish Christmas Lottery

Written By:  Emily Willings

This 22nd of December will see the 207th holding of the Spanish Christmas Lottery. Ever since the very first one back in 1812 nothing has got in the way of the tradition. Wars have been waged and extreme weather events have occurred but there’s always been the belief that this is too important an event to cancel.

Often wrongly called El Gordo (this is just the name given to the first prize of €4 million) this truly is an event that unites the nation and signals the true start of the Christmas celebrations which culminate in the Tres Reyes celebrations beginning on January 5th.


In the run-up to the draw, whenever you see crowds of people gathered in the street it may well be that they’re queueing for their ticket. It’s estimated that over 73% of Spanish residents aged between 18 and 75 buy a ticket in the hope of sharing in the €2.38 billion prize fund. Because it’s intended to offer a realistic chance for everyone, the draw is structured to provide a one in seven chance of winning so its appeal is obvious.

“lottery line, Seville” (CC BY 2.0) by Paul and Jill

The good news for those of us not in Spain is that you can buy El Gordo tickets now at Lottoland so everyone has a chance to win, virtually wherever you are in the world. The fact that they’re so simple to get hold of in this way means that it’s a chance to join in the excitement, even if you can’t join in the TV spectacular that has millions glued to their sets on December 22nd.

It’s through this broadcast that most of the traditions of the event have become engrained in the nation’s psyche. It is held in a special building dedicated to the event called the Loteria Nacional Hall in Madrid. The wooden balls showing the numbers from 00001 up to 99999 are put in the first wire cage while 1,807 other balls showing cash amounts are put in second one. The numbers are lasered onto the balls to ensure all are the identical weight of 3 grams.

As each ball is drawn a pupil from the San Ildefonso School in Madrid sings out the number. Until 1984, only boys were allowed to perform this task but today girls are allowed to as well. It has also long been a tradition that the winners of the big prizes should donate some of their winnings to the school as a gesture of thanks.

The grand climax of the evening comes when the El Gordo is drawn with the winning number scooping the big prize. Plus, for the runners up, the numbers immediately above and below the winning prize each get a consolation prize of €20,000.

There’s also a tradition of many of the winners coming from one area, the most notable example of which came in 2011 when the 250-strong population of the tiny village of Sodeto, with one very unlucky exception, won the main prize.

But, as we say, everyone has an equal chance in the draw. So, this year maybe El Gordo will be heading your way! 


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