The Christmas Lottery is one of the events that generates the most enthusiasm each year among Spaniards. The Extraordinary Christmas Raffle, as it is also known, has been celebrated in Spain since December 18, 1812, although it was not until December 23, 1892 that it acquired the name of Christmas Raffle.
Currently, the event is held every December 22 and has become one of the most important and popular lottery draws in the country, as well as unique since the prizes are not announced by presenters but by children: the children of San Ildefonso.
The story behind the children of San Ildefonso: Who are these children?
The children of San Ildefonso belong to one of the oldest educational centers in the Spanish capital: the San Ildefonso school, whose origins date back to 1543, the oldest secular educational center in Madrid. In its beginnings, the school was called “Children’s School of the Doctrine” and offered a very advanced educational training for its time, with subjects as unusual as fencing, drawing and shorthand. Shortly after it became a kind of orphanage, a charity center that took in abandoned children to facilitate their education.
It is worth noting that, in its beginnings, the school served as an exclusive boarding school for boys. However, in the late 1960s it admitted the entry of external students and, from 1981, the first girls. From 1884 to the present day, the school built its headquarters in some houses owned by the Marquis of Benalúa, on Calle Alfonso VI, although from the 1990s it was separated into two institutions dependent on the Madrid City Council: the residence -boarding school and the public school San Ildefonso.
How did the children of San Ildefonso come to sing the Christmas Lottery?
The story goes that the students of the San Ildefonso school were already singing in the squares of towns and cities before making the leap to the Christmas Lottery. It was on March 9, 1771, still under the reign of Carlos III, that they made their debut drawing the winning numbers in the national lottery. In this way, they gave the lottery an image of transparency and received compensation in return that helped their studies.
After many years presenting the national lottery, it was on December 23, 1892 when these children sang the Extraordinary Christmas Draw for the first time. At that time the system was more rudimentary since the system of drums and wooden balls that we know today did not yet exist, it was introduced later, in 1913. However, the change did not prevent that since then and, for more For two centuries, the children of San Ildefonso have been the spokespersons for the Christmas raffle.
How are the children of San Ildefonso chosen to sing the Christmas Lottery?
Almost all the children of the San Ildefonso school participate in the Christmas Lottery, although not all of them sing the winning numbers. In general, children under 8 years of age do not usually have a great command of reading numbers, so it is not usual for them to participate singing the Christmas prizes but rather in other behind-the-scenes functions. There is a long-standing rule that they choose the children with the best timbre of voice, with good vocalization and projection, as well as great verbal fluency and pronunciation to sing the awards.
The number of children participating in the event varies each year, but around 32 children from the San Ildefonso school usually participate: 10 boys and 22 girls between the ages of 8 and 14, who volunteer. Being chosen to sing the award-winning numbers is a great honor for these children, but it also represents a challenge since it demands a great deal of effort on their part. The children chosen to sing the prizes start practicing from around October and rehearse Monday through Thursday for many hours to develop their astuteness with numbers.
Curiosities about the children of San Ildefonso who sing the Christmas Lottery
It is interesting that during the rehearsals the children not only practice reading the numbers but also another very important skill for the draw: the manipulation of the balls and drums. On the one hand, they must gain skill in removing the balls from the drum since they must do so while singing the previous number. On the other hand, the balls are so small that to be able to read the complete number they must be rotated almost 180 degrees, a skill that children must automate in order to maintain a good rhythm during the draw.
Another curious detail about the participation of the children of San Ildefonso in the Christmas raffle is their clothing, which many consider to be the uniform they wear at school, but in reality it is not. The children of the boarding school do not have a school uniform and, although the little ones who attend this public school do wear it, it is not the one they use on the day of the draw. The choice of uniform to sing the Christmas Lottery has changed throughout history, especially since the 1980s when girls were added to the lottery.
Since then, although the classic cut of the clothing has remained practically intact, many details of the accessories have changed. Whether it is the color of the girls’ stockings, the use of bow ties for ties or vice versa, or the use of bows, rubber bands or headbands, these details that change every year are what identify the children of San Ildefonso from a Christmas of those of the next.
Likewise, it is worth noting that in the past, because the San Ildefonso school served as an orphanage, the children who began participating in the lottery did not usually have a family. Currently, contrary to what many believe, this rule has changed and children from all kinds of family backgrounds usually participate in the draw.