Spain’s €2.4 billion Christmas lottery offers a distraction from pandemic

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Spaniards looking for a respite from the pandemic’s gloom and doom are turning their attention on 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, will dish out a total of €2.4 billion in prizes this year, or 70% of the proceeds from ticket sales.

The top-prize number holder gets €400,000 or some €328,000 after taxes.

People can queue for hours in the days running up to the lottery to snatch their €20 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 spiralling number of coronavirus cases — Spain on Tuesday scored its pandemic record of new infections, with nearly 50,000 reported in one day — the public is returning to Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house after last year’s hiatus.

Following the tradition, children from Madrid’s San Ildefonso school call out prize-winning numbers, followed by jubilant street and bar scenes of winners celebrating with uncorked bottles of sparkling wine.

The lottery is run by the state and supports several charity efforts.

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