Spain’s Christmas lottery ‘El Gordo’ starts dishing out billions of dollars in prizes

People wait for the start of the draw at Madrid's Teatro Real opera house during Spain's bumper Christmas lottery draw

MADRID — People across Spain are tuning into the television, radio and internet as children from Madrid’s San Ildefonso school Friday began singing out the prize-winning numbers in Spain’s huge Christmas lottery, known as “El Gordo” (the fat one).

The immensely popular lottery will distribute a total of 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in prizes this year, much of it in small prizes. Holders of 20-euro tickets bearing the top-prize number will receive 400,000 euros ($440,000).

Street and bar celebrations normally break out with winners uncorking bottles of sparkling wine and singing and dancing.

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The event is televised nationally from Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house.

Purchasing and sharing tickets, known in Spanish as “décimos” (tenths) in the run-up to Christmas is a major tradition among families, friends, co-workers and in bars and sports and social clubs.

The winning numbers are called out by children from Madrid’s San Ildefonso school. The children pick up balls showing ticket numbers and their corresponding prizes from two giant rolling drums. They sing out both figures with a rhythmic cadence that is known to everyone in Spain.

In the weeks beforehand, queues form outside lottery offices, especially those which have sold prize-winning tickets in the past.

Other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes but Spain’s Christmas lottery, held each year on Dec. 22, is ranked as the world’s richest for the total prize money involved.

Spain established its national lottery as a charity in 1763 during the reign of King Carlos III. Its objective later became to shore up state coffers. It also helps several charities.

The Dec. 22 lottery began in 1812. Since the beginning, the San Ildefonso college children have been singing the prizes.

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