What is billed as the world's richest lottery Saturday showered millions of dollars on Spaniards in a seasonal rite more popular than Santa Claus or Christmas stockings.
Bank workers, a farmer and a bachelor looking for a girlfriend were among the big winners of the Spanish Christmas lottery, a 222-year-old tradition with prizes this year totaling more than $400 million.
"El Gordo"--the Fat One, as the grand prize is affectionately called --brought instant riches to holders of 55 tickets with the number 63369. Most of them were from Madrid, Toledo and the Mediterranean province of Valencia.
"I hope I get lots of girlfriends now," said bachelor Rafael Rivelles, 44, of Valencia, who held a fraction of the lucky number.
But the biggest share--$64 million--went to the small town of Talavera in Toledo province, where locals danced and popped champagne bottles in the streets to celebrate their windfall.
The manager of a local bank where employees shared $19 million in winnings said he chose the lucky number because "my horoscope told me it would end in nine."
"I won 25 million pesetas ($161,000), but what I'm really worried about is my wheat, barley and potato harvest," said farmer Antonio Torrijos, 68, who lives near Madrid.
The Fat One and the thousands of smaller prizes were plucked from revolving wire drums by youngsters at Madrid's San Ildefonso School and sung out in a Gregorian-like chant.
Tickets Cost $160
During the three-hour drawing, the entire nation ground to a halt to follow the results on radio and television. There is hardly a Spaniard who does not buy at least a fraction of one of the 3.63 million tickets, sold for $160 each at workplaces, local bars and butcher shops.
The Fat One fell exactly 100 minutes after the draw began. Each of the 55 first-prize tickets yielded $1.6 million for a total of $88.67 million.
"This neighborhood is going to bubble over, it's going to soar," said Salvador Maldonado, whose family runs the lottery outlet that sold most of the tickets for the second prize, number 52543, in the working-class neighborhood of Horta in Barcelona.
The lottery was invented as a revenue-raising measure by King Carlos III in 1763 and has not missed a year since.
This year, the Socialist government estimated it would make $171 million in profits, which go to the Finance Ministry, after paying out the prizes.