Sunday, December 21, 2008

El Gordo

It will be hard for the children from the Colegio de San Ildefonso to get any sleep tonight. Following two and a half months of rehearsals lasting about an hour each day, the children are going to announce the winning numbers for the Christmas lottery tomorrow.


The draw has followed the same format since December 18, 1812. It will take place in the Lotería Nacional hall of Madrid where pupils from the school (formerly reserved for orphans of public servants) will draw the numbers and corresponding prizes, singing the results aloud in front of the public.

Two spheres are used for the draw. The big one contains tens of thousands of small wooden balls, each with an unique 5-digit ticket number on it. The smaller sphere contains 1787 wooden balls, each one with a prize in euros on it (1774 numbers for the small prizes la pedrea (the pebble-avalanche), and 9 numbers for the major prizes.

The numbered balls are taken from each of the revolving spheres at the same time. One child sings the winning number, the other child sings the corresponding prize. This is repeated until all of the 1787 prize-balls are connected to a number.

When a major prize is drawn, both children repeat their singing multiple times, and show the balls to a committee, and to a fixed camera. Although the drawing is obviously chance, the children who draw the higher prizes will be applauded.

To make matters more complicated, some prizes are not drawn separately, but are calculated from the winning numbers:

  • The two neighbouring numbers of the top 3 prizes are given a prize too
  • The numbers ending on the last two winning digits of prize 1, 2 and 3, receive €1,000
  • Every number ending in the same digit as the Gordo receives €200.

Due to the sheer number of prizes, the draw will take about 3 hours to complete. The children will work in about eight shifts. It is a custom that the winners donate some of the money to the San Ildefonso school.

With prizes of 2,320,000,000 € and a 1 in 6 chance of winning , you still have a chance to buy your tickets online at

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