MADRID — Spain kicked off the festive period Thursday with the celebration of one of its most iconic events, the bumper Christmas lottery, known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One).
The most sought-after prize shells out 400,000 euros ($425,000), or some 325,000 euros after tax, to holders of winning 20-euro tickets, known as décimos.
In keeping with tradition, the winning numbers are called out by children from Madrid's San Ildefonso school in a nationally televised draw at Madrid's Teatro Real opera house.
The incredibly popular lottery will dish out a total of 2.5 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in prizes, much of it in hundreds of smaller prizes.
Purchasing and sharing 20-euro tickets, especially in the run-up to Christmas, is a major tradition among families, friends, co-workers and in bars and sports and social clubs.
Other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes but Spain's Christmas lottery, held each year on Dec. 22, is ranked as the world's richest for the total prize money involved.
Spain established its national lottery as a charity in 1763 during the reign of King Carlos III. Its objective later became to shore up state coffers. It also helps several charities.
The Dec. 22 Christmas lottery began in 1812. Since the beginning, children from the San Ildefonso college have been singing out the winning numbers and matching prizes.
The session, which started at 9 a.m., normally lasts some four hours.