Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Fat One

Australia my have "The race that stops a nation," but in Spain it is a lottery that brings the country to a halt.  Well maybe the whole country doesn't come to a stand still, after all the drawing takes over 3 hours compared to the minute long race in Melbourne, but on December 22 much of the country is glued to the television or radio for much of the day waiting for the results.
"El Gordo"--The Fat One-- is the biggest lottery in the world, with millions of euros in prizes.   Participation in the lottery doesn't come cheap with tickets costing 200 euros.  However, to help keep down the cost tickets are broken into 10 parts (decimos), which are sold for a more affordable 20 euros.  However, if you buy only part of a ticket it means that any winning will be split with someone else.  Therefore, often groups of people--friends, families, co-workers--buy tickets together so that the fortunes will be shared with loved ones or at least acquaintances.
El Gordo tickets go on sale during the summer and can be bought at an official National Lottery Office, online, or in bars.  People tend to buy early since only a certain number of tickets are available and once they are gone, they are gone.  It is common for people to want tickets from localities where previous winning tickets were sold, so if you travel between May and December you are often asked by friends to pick up tickets from  cities the cities you visit.
The drawing of numbers in El Gordo works like no other lottery in the world.  To determine the winning numbers two large spheres filled with wooden balls are used.  One sphere contains several tens of thousands of balls inscribed with a unique 5 digit ticket number.  The second sphere contains 1,787 balls inscribed with a prize in euros on it.  During the drawing a single ball is removed from each sphere at the same time, and children sing the winning number and then the corresponding prize.  The process is repeated until the 1,787 prize-balls are connected to a number.  With the large number of tax-free prizes--paid out immediately-- the process is long and drawn out.
I hate to admit that I never bought a ticket for El Gordo, even though tradition says that everyone in Spain must play the lottery on the 22nd of December.  However, the sing song call of the numbers, heard echoing throughout a nation for hours on end became etched in my brain.  Even though the northern winds may not be strong enough to carry one of Spain's iconic sounds all the way to Australia, at 8:30 am (CTE) I will hear, or at least imagine, a distant song from my past.

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