Once again Christmas rears its ugly head. Different countries tend to celebrate in different ways, all living out their version of the modern invention of Christmas as invented by Germany in the XIX century.
In the case of Spain, this means the National Lottery, the largest of its kind on Earth.
As befits a country obsessed with luck and money (much like this other country I know on the other side of the pond), in these times of economic hardship, many people are spending what little they have on the lottery.
And the lottery is big business.
They have just spent who knows how many millions on their latest television commercial, where you see loads of little kids leaving a private boarding school at night (in Spain, it is students from the San Ildefonso school who call out the winning numbers as they come out of the wheel -and they have been doing so since the XVIII century) and watching, and catching from afar, people’s lottery numbers and dreams.
They then go back to, I’m guessing, lottery central, and deposit their catch in a Burtonesque machine which drops each one into a gigantic ball. The Dream Factory it is called.
All very dream like and, obviously, pulling at the heart strings.
The soundtrack is straight from Edward Scissorhands. Fantasy and escapism.
Although according to the latest statistics, takings have lowered recently, many in Spain like to play the lottery, or lotteries which pepper the country from North to South and East to West. And on the internet.
In fact, if you log on to the Spanish National Lottery website, it can show you where the number you would like to play is being sold.
Yes, in case you were wondering, in Spain it is traditional for many people to play one single number year after year.
Or perhaps they think a particular number will be lucky and they go all over the place looking for it, asking friends and family to look out for it where they live. Well, no more. Now technology comes to their aid.
At almost every office in the country, including mine, it is quite common for the entire office to pitch in and buy an entire lottery number series.
Yes, you guessed it, the lottery in Spain is not about just winning a number, but about winning this number from that series.
Furthermore, the entire series is divided up into fractions and these into individual tickets called ‘décimos’, literally ‘tenths’.
What this means is that if you have one of the ‘décimos’ you get a percentage of the winning number. And if you bought the entire series, you win the whole lot.
Most people in Spain only buy one or two ‘décimos’ for themselves since a whole series would be too expensive for most people.
However, given that most families have more than working member (the ones with jobs) it is often the case that people are buying and swapping tickets from various lottery series, -each bought at their workplace, and thus, increasing their chances.
Well, lo and behold, I too am expected to participate in this age old tradition.
It started on Saturday. My partner and I went for breakfast at a café near home.
As we were paying, the waiter asked if we’d like to buy a lottery ticket from them.
It seems that the number in question is quite “lucky” because it was the number a recently deceased customer of theirs had been playing continuously for the past 52 years and never once did it come up.
“This year it is bound to come up!” the waiter told us.
My partner, being an ace at mathematics, made a quick mental calculation of the amount of times that number had been played per year, times 52 years, and compared them to the ‘chances of winning’ average.
The result? “You need a further three life times at that rate for that number to come up”. So no, we didn’t buy a lottery ticket from them.
But it doesn’t stop there.
People at my office have started talking about buying an entire series, or half of one, or a fraction of a fraction. Or whatever.
We went down for a coffee this morning and, too sad to talk about last night’s electoral results, the big story was the national lottery.
Only one other person is thinking of not participating, and our colleagues looked at us in dismay, but secretly hoping that we don’t participate.
Well, in the past, many of these office lottery tickets tend to win big. And it happens in every office that someone did not buy a ticket.
In a way, to my colleagues, if we don’t buy a ticket, their chances of winning are increased.
I already lived through this a couple of years ago. Back then it was the same scene, same dialogue, but with different characters. I didn’t fall into it, but I did feel a little anxious about it.
I mean, what if they did win and I was the only idiot in the office who didn’t participate? That is a lot of pressure. And not just that, when the television cameras come round to film the office cheer, they alway zoom in on the poor idiot who did not participate. And then the entire country talks about him and his face. Or hers.
Nevertheless, I think this year will be much the same as last time.
“No thank you, I will not participate in this ritual”. Silly really, since my partner will no doubt buy one for me and give it to me as a gift.
But that is an altogether different story…