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El Gordo, the Royal Postman, and the Spanish holiday season December 23, 2007

Posted by Emily in moving, Spain.
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My plan is to write a couple of posts about the Spanish holidays, seeing as how I’m constantly learning new things and trying to take advantage of my first foreign Christmas.

First of all, yesterday was the drawing for El Gordo, the world’s largest lottery. It’s a complicated system, one I think I more or less understand, but only through asking lots of questions and a little help from Wikipedia. Spanish people are wild for the lottery all year long–kiosks are all over Spanish cities, and people with mental or physical problems roam the streets everyday with a string of colorful tickets clipped to their chests, selling for Once, the lottery that benefits the handicapped. But El Gordo, or the Christmas lottery, is when everyone gets serious–I’ve read that 95+% of Spanish people participate in the Christmas lottery in one form or another. Perhaps they are given tickets, perhaps they participate at work, or they buy from a charitable organization with the hopes of receiving part of the winnings. The odds of winning something are supposedly around 15%. Not so bad. But the odds of winning El Gordo (the name of the highest prize–we’ll get to this in a second) are 1:85,000.

Wait a second–a quick math moment. There are more than 85,000 Spanish people (duh). But the reason why the odds are 1:85,000 is because numbers are sold more than once, in series, and almost no one buys an entire number. They cost 200€. Instead, almost everyone buys a décimo, or a tenth, for 20€. Sometimes even those are split up. Restaurants will sell a single lottery number for the entire season–when people feel lucky (or perhaps just full after a good meal), they are prone to buy a ticket when they pay their bill. Which means that the biggest prize, El Gordo, is split up among many people, but they are often from the same town or even social club. In 2005, 500 million euro (€300,000 per winning décimo), was injected into a town of about 38,000 in Catalonia in NE Spain. Talk about a change of situation.

The drawing is quite a spectacle, lasting about 3 hours and televised. There are two huge rotating gold balls, filled with small wooden balls. The first one is smaller and contains all of the prizes–ranging from 1,000€ (many) to El Gordo, the highest prize (which was 300.000€ per décimo this year, or 15,000€ per euro played). There’s just one of these balls. The other rotating gold orb (I’m getting into the spectacle) is filled with the 85,000 numbers played this year. One by one, balls fall out of the two orbs, and kids from this one specific school in Madrid sing out the numbers–first the amount from one kid, then the five digit lottery number from another. It’s fun to watch for a while, although the “mil euro” (1,000€) repetition gets a little old. When a higher number falls, people get all excited and the kids have to take both balls, held out in front of them like gold, over to the judges table, then walk them across the audience like a Barker Babe. The kids are all giddy, not unlike the person holding that winning ticket. Here’s a chart of the winnings from last year (thanks, Wikipedia):

Prize Winning number(s)
First
El Gordo
1 × €3,000,000 20297
Second 1 × €1,000,000 37368
Third 1 × €500,000 79735
Fourth 2 × €200,000 47272,60379
Fifth 8 × €50,000 13044, 19151,
27274, 58915,
59236, 60534,
64303, 73199
la Pedrea 1774 × €1,000
  2 × €20,000 20296, 20298
  2 × €12,500 37367, 37369
  2 × €9,600 79734, 79736
  99 × €1,000 20200–20296
20298, 20299
  99 × €1,000 37300–37367
37369–37399
  99 × €1,000 79700–79734
79736–79799
  198 × €1,000 47200–47271
47273–47299
60300–60378
60380–60399
  849 × €1,000 ###97
  849 × €1,000 ###68
  849 × €1,000 ###35
  8499 × €200 ####7
# = any digit
The number of prizes is given per series: in 2006, there were 180 series of numbers, giving a total prize value of €2,142,000,000.
Prize values are given per number (billete): the tickets which are generally sold (décimos) give prizes which are one tenth of the amount quoted here.

You can watch the drawing of El Gordo on the El País website as well. It’s an interesting mix of fate and luck and superstition–one of this year’s Gordo winners was on TV last night, saying he’s played this same number for 30 years, that he always knew it was the number for him. Not sure he said the same in the first 29 years, but it’s kind of a cool sentiment. It’s kind of like being a Red Sox fan.

On to the Royal Postman and the holiday fever that is Reyes Magos, Three Kings Day, mostly just referred to as Reyes. Kids here believe in Santa (I asked around my school) but he’s a secondary figure. He’ll drop off a present or two on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) after dinner, when the kids happen to be in the other room. But that’s about it–they say his bag is only so big. The real greed mongers are the Reyes Magos, who bring presents on the night of January 5th. Apparently Santa’s bag has a limit, but camels can carry serious loads. At any rate, three is too many for a mall visit, so the kids sit on the lap of the Cartero Real (the Royal Postman) in front of El Corte Inglés and give him their letters. The Royal Postman in Córdoba this year was black, and as I was babbling on about how nice it was to see a little diversity, and if a couple of the Three Kings are black, why not the Royal Postman, blah blah blah, Pat interrupted me. “You didn’t hear what the kids were saying, did you?” No, I wasn’t really paying attention. He continued, “They were saying that he looks really different from last year and that he must have spent too much time in the sun.” So much for my “Christmas should be a time for tolerance” ideas. Bah humbug.

On the news on Thursday, they reported that an estimated 70% of Spanish people had yet to do their holiday shopping. This was on the 20th. It wasn’t until Saturday that the streets were really filling with people. They have until the 5th, I guess, but things will get nuts after Christmas. I’ll be glad to be just a spectator.

 I mentioned in my last post that Spanish Christmas songs (villancicos) pretty much suck. I’m trying to keep an open mind (seems like it, right?), listening to as many as I can, but all the recordings seem to be sung by The Chipmunks, or maybe those annoying kids who sing “War is Over” in the background of the John Lennon song. And my thoughts toward the villancicos aren’t improving now that I know they require me to cower. The other night, the doorbell rang and I went to answer it. But then I remember that I had been advised to check the peephole at Christmastime. It was two random kids from my building, maybe 12 years old, and if you open the door, they sing carols and you have to pay them. They were ringing all of the doorbells, but from the vantage point of my peephole, it was clear to see that no one was opening up. I was sort of tempted, but wasn’t convinced of their motives. What ever happened to giving, and not just receiving? Huh? Huh?

All for now. I’ve got some last minute shopping to do today, taking advantage of the rare opening of shops on a Sunday. There are also some cool nativity scenes around the city I’d like to check out. And I still need to check the ticket I bought months ago, from a women’s sport group in Córdoba, good for a 300€ Christmas basket if my number was a winner in the Christmas lottery. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

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