This tradition is deeply embedded in these holidays and dates back to 1763 when Carlos 111 initiated it. Since then, not one year has passed without it, and it now is the symbolic moment in which Spaniards begin to celebrate the Christmas holidays. The first Christmas lottery took place on 22nd December 1812 in Cádiz and the event has been taking place on the same day every year since.
Not even the Spanish Civil War could stop the Christmas lottery, which moved to Valencia when the Republican government had to relocate their capital from Madrid. After the war, the lottery moved back to Madrid and continued under the regime of the dictator Francisco Franco.
Because so many people in Spain take part in El Gordo, the ticketing system is complicated. Unlike in the UK, for example, you don’t go into a newsagent and shade in the numbers you want on your lottery card. Instead, lottery shops have certain numbers available. This is why the big winners of the Christmas Lottery are usually from the same area: many people have bought tickets from the same shop which holds all the winning tickets.
One ticket costs a whopping €200, but many people choose to buy a tenth of a ticket for €20. Even smaller portions of tickets are sold: it is common for businesses to buy a ticket then sell small portions, or 'participaciones', of that ticket to their patrons for €1.
The balls are drawn in a unique way befitting the unique lottery tradition, while the numbers are sung by the pupils of Madrid's San Ildefonso school.