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The orphans of Madrid's San Ildefonso school about to sing the winning numbers of the "El Gordo" lottery

El Gordo is a lottery that is held each year in Spain.  The tickets are drawn on December 22nd and everyone watches on television.  It's the most boring and monotonous TV show in the world. Yet for five non-stop hours on December 22 it holds Spain enthralled. Those who can't get near a TV set follow the hymn-like singing on radio. Bars, factories and offices grind to a standstill as millions of people strain to catch every vital numeral.

By the time the singing has finished, the lives of thousands of Spaniards will have changed for ever. Many will be millionaires. Whole villages will begin a new life of prosperity. Children yet unborn will stand to inherit fortunes.

The orphans of Madrid's San Ildefonso school are chanting the winning numbers in the world's most spectacular giveaway - the Spanish National Christmas Lottery, whose top prize this year is of 300 million pesetas (around $1.8 m.) per winning ticket (numerous series of the same numbers are issued, so there are multiple first prize winners), for a total of about $250 million dollars. In addition there is a second prize of 144 million pesetas (about $800,000)  and numerous smaller prizes. To get a crack at "El Gordo", as the jackpot is known, you have to invest in a whole ticket, which costs 30,000 pesetas (about $166) . Most people settle for a tenth of a ticket - called a "decimo" - often dividing them into smaller "participaciones" and selling shares to friends, workmates or relatives.

The Spanish lottery was instituted by King Carlos III in 1763, and Spain has been hooked ever since. Not even the Civil War managed to get in the way of "El Gordo" - in fact, during the war there were two national lotteries, one on either side of the front lines.

On January 5th there is a smaller lottery called "el nino" or "the little one".  There are also lottery drawings throughout the year.

Adapted from an article by Perrot Philips

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