Spaniards looking for a respite from the pandemic’s gloom and doom turned their attention Wednesday to a rite that for more than two centuries has marked the beginning of the festive period: the country’s bumper Christmas lottery, known as "El Gordo," or "The Fat One."
The draw, held annually since 1812, dished out a total of 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in prizes this year, or 70% of the proceeds from ticket sales.
The top-prize number holder — number 86148 this year — gets 400,000 euros ($450,000) or about 328,000 euros after taxes ($370,000).
Javier Moñino Paniagua, a lottery ticket seller at a stall in Madrid’s central Atocha train station, said his outlet sold tickets that won a total of 520 million euros ($588 million).
The prizewinners for those tickets are probably scattered all over the country because the stall is right by the platform from where high-speed trains depart to many corners of Spain, he said.
He said he bought some tickets himself but missed out on the top prize.
People line up for hours in the days running up to the lottery to snatch their 20-euro tickets from the most popular vendors.
Some buy them for themselves or as gifts for others. Work colleagues, relatives or friends also pool money to buy them, with their eyes set on sharing the prizes.
Other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes, but Spain’s Christmas lottery, staged each year on Dec. 22, is ranked as the world’s richest for the total prize money involved.
Despite a spiraling number of coronavirus cases — Spain on Tuesday scored its pandemic record of new infections, with nearly 50,000 reported in one day — spectators returned to Madrid's Teatro Real opera house for the draw after last year's hiatus.
Following the tradition, children from Madrid’s San Ildefonso school call out the prizewinning numbers, followed by jubilant street and bar scenes of winners celebrating with bottles of sparkling wine.
The lottery is run by the state and supports several charities.