Dec 22 is a special day in Spain when wood is touched, fingers are crossed and lucky items are clutched in nervous hands. Its the day that the biggest lottery of the year, called 'El Gordo' is drawn.
The Spanish Christmas Lottery (Sorteo de Navidad) has been a feature of the run up to Christmas every year since 1812 when it was first introduced by a branch of the Spanish Public Administration. In terms of the total money paid out, its the biggest lottery in the world.
The tickets have five numbers, with each set of numbers being sold in a series. To buy a whole ticket costs €200, so the tickets are usually sold in tenths, called 'decimos'. Sometimes, even these smaller tickets may be bought by a group of workers or an association. This means that the chances of winning at least a small prize are high with sometimes a whole village benefiting from a big win.
The procedure for drawing the lottery is the same very year. The event takes place in the Loteria Naciónal hall in Madrid. The numbers are held in two round containers. The big container has tens of thousands of little wooden balls, each with a unique five figure ticket number on it. The other container has 1,787 wooden balls each with the prize amount in Euros printed on it. Security is very tight to ensure that everything is as it should be.
Children from the San Ildefonso school actually sing the results. One child will pick up the ball issued by the larger container and sing it out and another child will pick up the prize money ball and sing out the value of the prize. When it is one of the big prizes, the children have to sing the numbers out several times and the balls are checked by the lottery committee. Cameras are placed throughout the hall.The whole event is televised and takes several hours to be completed.
This year, 2011, according to reports in the media such as the newspaper El Pais, the townspeople of Grañén in the province of Huesca in northern Spain are especially happy as many residents had shares in the first prize. The town is a small farming community and the money will make a huge difference to their lives. One woman discovered she was pregnant on the same day making it a day of double celebration for her.
Champagne was also flowing in Mainses in the province of Valencia where many residents had shares in the second prize and in Leganés, Las Rozas, Getafe and other towns where third prize winners were celebrating their pre-Christmas luck.
This year's lottery saw the biggest payout in prize money ever , with a total of 2,520 million Euros. Every decimo for the first prize received four million Euros. Happy faces and champagne fountains could be seen across the country