The annual Christmas lottery seems to be the last resort for Spaniards as they cut back on food and gifts in the economic crunch, but spend their money on tickets hoping for a win - and relief.
The State Lottery and Betting organisation estimates sales for Wednesday's draw for "El Gordo" or "The Fat One", as the lottery is called, will match or be slightly higher than last year's total of 2.7 billion euros (3.5 billion dollars).
AdvertisementAlberto Espinosa, a 38-year-old civil servant who has seen his salary cut this year as part of government belt-tightening measures, said he would buy less tickets this year but would still take part in the draw.
"Buying 'El Gordo' at Christmas is a tradition but I think that when times are tough as they are now the dreams are different," he said as he stood in line to buy tickets outside a state lottery office in central Madrid.
"Before you would buy tickets with the dream of going on a long trip or buying an expensive car, now you dream of being able to live peacefully without worrying about making it to the end of the month."
While other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes, "El Gordo" is ranked as the world's richest for the total sum paid out in thousands of individual prizes -- 2.32 billion euros this year.
Manuel Rivero, a 67-year-old retired shopkeeper, said he plans to spend 100 euros on five tickets -- one for himself and two each for his two sons who he said are struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments.
"One son is unemployed, the other's wife is not working. It's a silly hope but if they were to win, this would solve a lot of problems," he said as he stood in line in the cold to buy the tickets at the Dona Manolita, a lottery vending shop which has become a Spanish institution since it opened in 1931.
The steady sales for the Christmas lottery bucks the trend among Spanish consumers who are tightening their belts this holiday season, spending less for the third year in a row according to the Federation for Independent Consumers.
It estimates shoppers will spend an average 674 euros over the festive period, down from 728 euros last year and 814 euros in 2008 when the collapse of a property bubble plunged Spain into recession and caused the unemployment rate to soar to 20 percent, the highest level in the European Union.
"The fact that over the past three years consumption has dropped 24 percent during the holidays demonstrates the damage that the crisis is causing to numerous families who must cut their spending even more at Christmas to make it until the end of the month," said the head of the federation, Agustina Laguna.
Celeste Consuegra, a 48-year-old retirement home worker whose husband has been unemployed for over a year, said her family had decided to only buy gifts for children this year to save money.
"It is more important for the little ones to get gifts, they get very excited, we adults understand the situation better," she said as she left a downtown Madrid department store carrying a bag with toys wrapped in colourful paper for her children and nephews.
Others doing their last-minute shopping on the streets of the Spanish capital -- which this season will have 3.1 million fewer holiday lights as part of municipal belt-tightening -- also spoke of buying less expensive gifts or second-hand items.
One of Spain's most popular web sites for used goods, Doctortrade.com, estimates average spending on used goods per person these holidays will be 100 euros (132 dollars), a 150 percent jump over last year.
"This is going to be a recycled Christmas," said Doctortrade.com director Manuel de Timoteo.