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A Dose Of El Gordo, One Of Spain's Holiday Traditions


While I'm filling in for Lulu Garcia-Navarro, I thought I'd bring you a dose of Christmas spirit from the country where I live - Spain. There's a Spanish holiday tradition called El Gordo, the fat one, and that doesn't refer to Santa Claus. It's the Christmas lottery, and here's what it sounds like.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Singing in Spanish).

FRAYER: Those are schoolchildren singing the winning numbers this past Friday on live TV. Across the country, practically everyone stops what they're doing to tune in. Before traveling to the states to host this show, I joined the lottery ticket lines.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Shouting in Spanish).

FRAYER: I'm making my way through a crowd of Christmas shoppers in downtown Madrid to the most famous lottery kiosk maybe in the world - La Manolita.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Shouting in Spanish).

FRAYER: It's rumored to be a lucky place. Winners have bought their tickets here in the past. And there are gypsies outside who've done the wait in line, bought up lots of tickets and now are reselling them at a higher price. And they sing songs about it, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: You prefer to wait.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: People wait in line for more than three hours to buy tickets. This is the biggest lottery in the world, with a total payout of nearly $3 billion - that's billion with a B. The most common ticket costs 20 euros - about $23. Thomas Brouwir and his girlfriend Laura Buil are buying several.

THOMAS BROUWIR: It seems quite expensive.

LAURA BUIL: But in the end, you can win, like, 400,000 euros per ticket. You don't become millionaire, but many people can solve economical problems.

FRAYER: And do you know anybody who's ever won?

BUIL: Yes. One of my close friends.

FRAYER: They drove six hours from Barcelona to buy tickets at this lucky kiosk.

BUIL: Yeah, for example, my family knew that we were coming to Madrid, so they say, oh, buy for us.

FRAYER: How many tickets are you going to buy?

BUIL: I don't know, four or five, right? Not much.

FRAYER: Nationwide, three-quarters of Spaniards buy tickets. They spend an average of nearly 80 bucks per person. And when Spain's economy tanked a few years ago, people bought even more. They leaned more on luck. I recently met up with an economist, Javier Diaz-Gimenez, whom I used to interview a lot in those dismal days of Europe's debt crisis.


JAVIER DIAZ-GIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: (Speaking Spanish).

DIAZ-GIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: I think I last saw you six years ago, the height of the economic crisis. It was 2011. We did a long interview about the economy. And then I asked you, what's up with the lottery? And you said, hold on, and you rummaged through your desk, and you said, yeah, it makes no sense, but I have a ticket.

DIAZ-GIMENEZ: Yeah, still do - I still do.

FRAYER: You still do.

DIAZ-GIMENEZ: I have another one.

FRAYER: And once again, Javier rummages through his desk and pulls out some lottery tickets. Here's the thing about Spain's Christmas lottery - there's no one winner with a fat check. There's a range of jackpots, all shared among dozens of winners with the same ticket numbers. Families, co-workers, friends all choose the same numbers so that if they win, they'll win together, say Laura and Thomas back outside in the ticket line.

BUIL: People share anyway because, like, yeah, I cannot become rich and you not. It's like...

BROUWIR: The message would be not about making money but just to share happiness.

BUIL: I - sometimes I say, OK, I already bought too much, but OK, well, one more, one more. It's one more.

FRAYER: OK. You've convinced me to buy.


FRAYER: I'm going to get in line.

BUIL: (Laughter) OK.

FRAYER: So I didn't win the El Gordo jackpot. Here's the number that did - 7-1-1-9-8.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Singing in Spanish).

FRAYER: Tickets with this number were actually sold at the lucky La Manolita kiosk and at other lottery shops in the Spanish cities of Lugo, Malaga and Santander, where bottles of champagne, or rather Spanish Cava, are likely being popped open for a very Merry Christmas this year.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.