Traditions: La Lotería de Navidad

Dear Carmen,

Today in the office my colleagues were talking about “pillando un décimo” (buying a decimal) and convinced me to buy one―a special lottery ticket worth €20. Now, you might think I am crazy because I am spending this kind of money on a very low probability of winning, but the Lotería de Navidad or the Christmas Lottery (officially called Sorteo de Navidad or the Christmas Raffle) is a tradition that I am participating in this year and I want to share with you a little bit about the Lotería de Navidad in Spain.

Cross your fingers that I'll win!

Cross your fingers that I'll win!



The first version of the Christmas Lottery appeared around 1812 in Cadiz when the local government used it as a way to raise extra money for public workers without upsetting the community. The official name of the Christmas Raffle was given to the drawing in 1982. Today the Lottery is drawn on the 22nd of December every year and the entire country anxiously awaits the results (trust me, ask any of your Spanish friends, they know what this is!)

The Spanish Lottery is currently based on a ticket system where each ticket has 5 numbers from 00000 to 99999, and is worth €200. Because there are only 100,000 different combinations, in order to sell more tickets, each number can be printed multiple times. The number of times a ticket number is printed is identified by its ‘serie’ number.

These tickets, worth €200 are then divided into 10 décimos, each one worth (obviously) €20. People and organizations can either buy the entire ticket, or they can just purchase a décimo (pillar un décimo). For example, this year my ticket number is 48689 and the serie number is 38. This means that there are 38 tickets, each divided into 10 décimos with this same number.

70% of all tickets sales will be returned to buyers via prizes, the other 30% is used for maintaining the Lottery, etc. The biggest winner of the Christmas Lottery will have the opportunity to win the Gordo (the fat one). The Lottery will distribute approximately over 3 billion euros in prizes divided among the different winners―with around 170 million décimos sold annually. Those people who win the Gordo will win somewhere around 4 million euros. At the same time, many other winners who are ‘close’ to this number will also win money (that can be anywhere from pennies to thousands of dollars).


Buying a décimo is easy―they are everywhere from about June onwards to the days before the drawing. You can find them in schools, workplaces, public offices, bars, etc. There are people who buy one or two, some people entire sets of numbers and sell them in the street, and then there are those people who buy the whole set and trade them with friends for other décimos until they have 20 different numbers. The tradition around the buying of lottery tickets may seem incredulous, but people (especially older people and children) really look forward to it!

In fact, some people I know spend upwards of €200 on décimos every year, taking the opportunity of buying one whenever they are offered! Now this may seem like a lot of money, but it is also a way of sharing and building your community. People buy tickets at their workplace (like me) or their favorite bars, and sometimes this means you have to buy a lot―you definitely don’t want someone you know to win when you don’t!

Personally, I have bought one décimo this year from work and gone in on another one with some people I know, but more for the traditional aspect of it than the hope that I will win the Gordo. In addition, my brother will probably get at least one number for himself and maybe share another one with friends. In my family we don’t buy many tickets, but that is mostly because we are guiris. Most families will buy at least one ticket for the Christmas Lottery, if not more.

So what do you think―will you buy a décimo this year and hope to win?!