21 Dec The Spanish Christmas Lottery
Participating in the Christmas Lottery is a tradition with deep roots in Spain. Far from thinking that Spanish people have a special fondness for gambling, the reason why we are more and more attracted every year to buy a tenth-share, are related with purposes that have nothing to do with greed or addiction to gambling.
There’s an extensive list of habits, all of them are caused by this celebration. The liturgy begins months before, when people start to buy lottery tickets in their summer holiday destinations –in case they find the lucky number out of their usual environment- as they go on sale in July. One month before the celebration, the official commercial of the Christmas Lottery begins to be televised and it is always awaited for being a particularly emotional and moving story. This year the commercial is a short film made by the famous movie director Alejandro Amenábar.
The raffle, which is organized by the state, takes place every year the 22nd December and it is carried out by the children of Colegio de San Ildefonso, who are in charge of showing the numbers that are extracted from a rotating drum and announce the winning number while singing. This form of telling the numbers is pretty often imitated for the funny way it sounds –you can see it here-. It is currently held at Madrid Royal Theatre, which doors open every year at 8am to receive the spectators who prefer to see the draw live. They usually put up with hours of queue as the capacity is limited and most of them used to show up disguised with festive and Christmas motifs.
Its duration is different every year, but it usually takes a whole morning –that is for Spanish people until 2-3 in the afternoon-. Televisions always take care of making a special live transmission of the whole raffle –although we don’t recommend seeing it all, it can be boring to see the children singing every single number-, and the reporters also go to the places where the winners celebrate their fortune. Their images will later capture the news programs of all channels.
The origins of the Christmas lottery date back to 1812, when the Cortes de Cádiz –the political representation of the country by that time- conceived it as a “medium to increase the public funds without any loss for the contributors”.
Regarding the Colegio de San Ildefonso, it was founded in 16th century and was an institution for orphans. How they came to sing the numbers is still unknown, but it is related with the fact that orphaned children used to sing in the squares to collect money and for their good voices they were usually selected to sing the numbers in lotteries. This school for example was already in charge of singing numbers in other lotteries, before the Christmas one.
It’s almost impossible to find a Spanish person who doesn’t buy a lottery ticket every year –it’s not an exaggeration- and the most exciting moment is to see the children singing the Gordo (that is the maximum prize you can achieve in Christmas Lottery) while showing the sphere with the winning number.
However, the way the lottery is played, transcends the desire to make money with it. The most traditional way of doing it, is to play several tenths: one with your group of friends, another with relatives, another with other trusted people … This way, if you play, the prize is shared and the joy is shared too. Of course the most common situation is not to win, so the most important aspect of the lottery is the fact of sharing your idyllic dreams with people you love the most.