This can take hours. A typical broadcast starts at 8 a.m. and ends around 1:30 p.m. The switch to euros in 2002 shortened the broadcast by about 10 minutes, as “one thousand euros,” for example, takes less time to sing than “one hundred and fifty thousand pesetas.”

The event takes place at Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house, where the stage is carpeted so the balls can’t roll far in case (God forbid) a child drops one. Ticketed spectators to the live drawing tend to come in costume and—judging by news interviews with audience members—alcohol is allowed.

But for the vast majority of people in Spain, El Gordo is a familiar, comforting background sound that immediately evokes memories of previous Christmases, with previous lottery kids singing away on the radio or television while relatives cook and chat.

“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t play in the Christmas lottery,” said Eduardo Gonzalez, 55, who works for a public utility in Madrid. “I remember when I was a kid the draw always took place during school holidays and even when you were having breakfast you could hear in the background the kids from San Ildefonso signing out loud the numbers of the draw.”

To give a US equivalent, “I guess its kind of like Thanksgiving Day football. It’s in the background, everyone knows about it, not everyone is paying attention,” said Jaime Barreiro, 35, a project manager in Madrid. “It’s a warm thing. Its something that’s been around forever. My mom used to listen to it on the radio with my grandparents. It’s the start of Christmas for us.”

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