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What country has a special lottery drawing just for Christmas?

Many countries around the world have lottery drawings throughout the year, but one country in particular has a very special and famous lottery drawing that takes place just before Christmas each year: Spain.

The Spanish Christmas Lottery

Spain’s Christmas lottery, known as “El Gordo” (which means “the big one” or “the fat one” in Spanish), is the biggest lottery draw not only in Spain but in the entire world. The lottery has been running since 1812, making it over 200 years old. It takes place each year on December 22nd and the drawings go on for several hours as the prizes across all the ticket numbers are announced one by one. Millions of Spaniards buy tickets each year hoping to win a share of the enormous prize pool.

Here are some key facts about Spain’s famous Christmas lottery:

  • The total prize pool is over €2 billion euros, making El Gordo the richest lottery in the world.
  • The first prize is €4 million euros for each full winning ticket. But because each number is printed multiple times across all the tickets, the top prize is shared among many people. The most winners for one number has been over 1,600 people!
  • There are many smaller prizes too, down to €20 for getting just the last 2 digits of a winning number.
  • Over 15,000 different number combinations are printed across all tickets.
  • Almost 3 out of 4 adults in Spain buy at least one €20 ticket for El Gordo.
  • The lottery draw takes place in Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house.
  • Children from Madrid’s San Ildefonso school call out the winning numbers and prizes.
  • The drawings are live on TV and radio across Spain and last 3-4 hours.

As you can see, Spain’s Christmas lottery is a very big deal! The incredibly large prize pool and fact that winnings are shared among many ticket holders makes El Gordo quite unique compared to other lotteries around the world.

History and Traditions of El Gordo

The Spanish Christmas Lottery has a long and interesting history dating back over 200 years. Here are some key points on the origins and traditions associated with Spain’s famous El Gordo:

  • First held in 1812 in Cádiz, the lottery was originally used to fund Spain’s war efforts and government budgets, before becoming a nationwide lottery draw in 1892.
  • For many decades, the draw took place in Madrid’s Teatro Real on December 22nd, the day before Christmas Eve known as “El Día de la Lotera” (Lottery Day).
  • Since 1985, children from Madrid’s San Ildefonso school call out the winning numbers, prize amounts, and ticket numbers in song form. People enjoy the singing and innocence of the children.
  • The tiny wooden balls with numbers are rotated in two traditional machines that mix and randomly select the balls – one for the numbers and one for the prizes.
  • Tickets are sold in official lottery offices (administraciones de lotería) weeks in advance, with many people buying them as holiday gifts.
  • Tickets often have nicknames reflecting Spanish traditions. “El Gordo” refers to the top prize, “El Niño” means the second prize, and “La Pedrea” means the prizes with numbers ending in the same digit.

The long history and cultural significance of the Spanish Christmas Lottery has ingrained it as an important holiday tradition for families and friends across Spain as they hope to become El Gordo winners!

Buying Tickets and Watching the Draw

Tickets for Spain’s incredibly popular Christmas lottery go on sale in mid-October each year and remain available until a few days before the big draw on December 22nd. Here are some key points on how to buy tickets and watch the draw:

  • Tickets are sold in authorized lottery offices and vendors across Spain. Many people buy them as gifts for family or as shared tickets among friends, coworkers, or in social clubs.
  • Full €20 tickets are the most common, but you can also buy smaller 10%, 5%, or 2.5% shares of a full ticket. This allows groups to split the cost of a ticket.
  • Each ticket has 5-digit numbers printed on it multiple times. You need to match the exact number to win, not just the digits.
  • The draw is televised live on Spain’s public broadcaster TVE starting at 9am. It lasts 3-4 hours as the children sing out all the prizes.
  • The lottery also airs on radio stations across Spain. Many bars and cafes will broadcast it live too.
  • You can watch the draw live online as well. And people can check the winning numbers being released in real-time on the official El Gordo website.

Part of the fun and excitement of El Gordo is watching the draw live and seeing the children happily sing out the numbers and prizes over hours. Families, friends, and coworkers often watch together, cheering when they recognize one of their numbers.

Winning, Prizes, and Odds

With over €2 billion in total prizes available, El Gordo offers incredible odds for players and some massive shared payouts. Here are the key details on prizes and win probabilities:

  • The first prize jackpot for a full ticket with the complete winning number is €4 million.
  • As the first prize number is printed multiple times across all tickets, winnings are divided evenly among all tickets bearing that number. So the first prize is frequently split among hundreds or even thousands of tickets.
  • Lesser prizes range from €1 million down to €200 for tickets with partial number matches. Even getting the last 2 digits wins a small prize.
  • Odds of winning any prize are about 1 in 6. Higher than most lotteries, making El Gordo especially popular.
  • With so many tickets containing the same numbers in circulation, your odds are actually better than 1 in 6 if you buy a popular number shared across more tickets.

While the total prize pool is gigantic, keep in mind the first prize and other big winnings get split many ways. But that shared aspect is also what makes El Gordo special compared to other lottery games.

Prize Chart

Match Prize Amount (Euros)
All 5 digits €4,000,000 (shared among all tickets with number)
First 4 digits €1,250
Last 4 digits €200
First 3 digits €50
Last 3 digits €20
First 2 digits €12
Last 2 digits €6

Famous First Prize Winners

Due to the enormous shared payout, Spain’s Christmas lottery has produced some famous first prize winners over the years. Here are a few notable stories:

  • In 2011, over 1,800 residents of a small village named Granen in northeastern Spain won a share of the first prize when it matched their town’s popular number 58268. The total winnings for the town exceeded €700 million!
  • In 2009, a group of nuns at the San Ildefonso school won €950,000 from a ticket they had accidentally been sold. They gave all the money back to the school.
  • In 2015, the monks operating the famous Montserrat monastery outside Barcelona won €500,000 and gave the money to charity projects helping the needy.
  • A bar owner in Madrid won a share of the first prize 3 different times across just 5 years between 2013 and 2017, sharing over €9 million among his customers who played at his bar.

These stories and many others like them help demonstrate how El Gordo delivers life-changing winnings, while also bringing good fortune and joy to groups, communities, and organizations across Spain.

Where Does the Money Come From?

With over €2 billion in prize money awarded each year, Spain’s famous Christmas lottery provides the biggest payout of any lottery worldwide. But where does all this prize money actually come from? Here are the main sources:

  • Ticket Sales – Approximately 70% of lottery proceeds come directly from ticket sales. With over €3 billion worth of tickets sold annually, sales generate over €2 billion towards prizes.
  • Government Funding – Spain’s national government provides a supplement from the state budget accounting for around 15% of lottery funding.
  • Charities – Non-profit organizations and charities buy tickets in bulk and receive a reduced rate. Their purchases generate approximately 15% of proceeds.

In essence, the massive prize pool is funded by the Spanish people, supplemented by government support, and boosted by charities participating. This unique arrangement helps make El Gordo’s prizes so exceptionally large.

Economic Impacts

Beyond making dreams come true for lucky winners, Spain’s famous Christmas lottery also delivers significant positive impacts on the nation’s economy. Here are some of the key economic effects:

  • Around €3 billion in ticket sales makes El Gordo a huge source of consumer spending, equal to approximately 0.2% of Spain’s GDP.
  • Winnings are tax-free, so prize money gets spent and recirculated quickly into the economy.
  • Many business owners and merchants buy huge stacks of tickets to share with customers, which increases sales.
  • The lottery supports over 8,500 licensed vendors and businesses across Spain.
  • Events and celebrations around the lottery draw bring increased business to restaurants, bars, hotels, and party supply stores.

According to studies by Spain’s Foundation for Financial Studies, El Gordo generates between €2.5-€3.5 billion in economic activity for the country from increased consumption and spending around the lottery itself. Overall, it is a major boost for Spain’s economy.

Economic Impact (Estimates)

Impact Amount (Euros)
Increased consumer spending €3 billion
Winnings re-spent into economy €1.5 billion
Increased business for lottery vendors €500 million
Increased spending around lottery celebrations €500 million+
Total Estimated Economic Impact €2.5 to €3.5 billion

Significance and Culture

Beyond just the economic impacts, Spain’s famous Christmas lottery also holds deep cultural and social significance. Here are some of the key reasons it occupies such importance:

  • The lottery represents a cherished annual tradition dating back over 200 years.
  • Families and friends make a festive event of watching the draw live together on December 22nd.
  • Sharing tickets in groups is very common, bringing people together.
  • Wining is seen as good fortune to be shared rather than for just getting rich individually.
  • The singing children represent innocence and hope.
  • Even small prizes let people participate in the experience.
  • El Gordo winners are seen as blessed with luck to be celebrated.

For these reasons and more, the Spanish Christmas Lottery has become deeply embedded in the nation’s culture. It represents far more than just a lottery – it is a beloved tradition and communal experience.

Fun Facts

With such a long interesting history and cultural significance, there are many fascinating facts surrounding Spain’s famous Christmas lottery. Here are some intriguing fun facts about El Gordo:

  • Spaniards purchase over 75% of all the tickets, but the lottery has fans worldwide who try playing too.
  • The number 7 has been drawn the most times for the top prize, over 20 times since 1812.
  • The lottery holds the Guinness World Record for “largest prize pool for a single lottery draw.”
  • All the number balls are precisely the same weight so no number has an advantage.
  • Winning numbers are printed on both sides of the physical tickets for quick checking.
  • Top first prizes can have 1,600+ winners but the record is 1,826 winners sharing the jackpot in 2011.
  • Tickets expire 90 days after the draw so winners must claim prizes quickly.

Learning more about the unique history and fun facts around El Gordo helps explain why it has become such a beloved tradition for the Spanish people and lottery fans worldwide.


Spain’s famous Christmas lottery – El Gordo – is clearly in a league of its own when compared to other lottery drawings around the world. With its massive prize pools, shared winnings, long history and cultural significance, El Gordo has become deeply ingrained into the Spanish holiday season. Millions eagerly buy tickets and tune into the highly anticipated draw each December 22nd. The shared excitement, community spirit, and hope for life-changing winnings make El Gordo far more than just a lottery. For the Spanish people, it is THE lottery – a cherished tradition and part of the nation’s cultural fabric.