Jim Lawley

The peculiar ritual of Spain’s Christmas lottery

Could you win the fat one?

  • From Spectator Life
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Half of Britain is said to have watched The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1977. Spain’s Christmas lottery, broadcast live to the nation each year on the morning of 22 December and marking for many the start of the holidays, is a similar moment of national unity. Spaniards everywhere down tools, watching with bated breath as lives throughout the country are transformed.

Lottery tickets are untraceable so previous years have seen furtive-looking men carrying suitcases full of banknotes descend on bars, lottery outlets and banks

This year the television cameras and the giant spherical cage containing thousands of numbered wooden balls will be in place as usual. In a ceremony lasting several hours, uniformed children will sing out numbers and their accompanying prizes in a sort of Gregorian plainchant, lending proceedings a slightly religious air. This aura of solemn ritual was momentarily dispelled a few years ago when the wooden ball slipped through the fingers of the little girl about to sing out its number and raced away across the floor: ‘Fuck! I’ve dropped it,’ she informed a startled nation, ‘and now where’s it gone?’

Tickets for El Gordo (‘The fat one’) are on sale at lottery outlets, retailers and online from July each year. Encouraged by heartwarming television advertisements, sales soar as the date of the draw approaches. A whole ticket costs a prohibitive €200 so most people purchase fractions. Noting that it always seems to be tickets sold in other towns which win, many Spaniards buy while they’re away on holiday; it’s a similar logic to running about during an air raid because it’s harder to hit a moving target. But the driving emotion is fear of missing out. What if the number sold in the bar at your holiday resort gets a big prize? What if the workplace ticket wins and your colleagues get rich but you don’t? 

El Gordo is over two hundred years old so traditions and superstitions abound.

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