As someone who has lived in Costa Rica, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing many of this country’s wonderful traditions and celebrations firsthand. But without a doubt, my favorite is the annual El Gordo Navideño lottery that brings infectious joy and excitement across Costa Rica every Christmas season.
In this article, I’ll provide an in-depth look into how El Gordo works, its origins, traditions, prizes, celebrations, and why it occupies such a special place in the hearts of Costa Ricans at Christmas time. I hope it inspires you to experience the magic too!
Over 100 Years of History
The first El Gordo Navideño lottery draw took place in 1892 at the direction of President Jose Joaquin Rodriguez. He envisioned it as a way to fund low-income housing projects while testing the public’s appetite for lottery style gaming. It was an instant hit that continued growing thereafter.
As both the prizes and number of tickets sold increased substantially in the 1930s under President Ricardo Jiminez, El Gordo really took off. It naturally gravitated toward linking with Christmas, another period promoting caring for those in need. As of 2022, over 100 successive years of the lottery have cemented it as a centerpiece of Costa Rican Christmas tradition.
A National Obsession – How El Gordo Captivates Costa Rica
Walk the streets of any Costa Rican town in December and you’ll see vibrant lottery ticket vendors on every corner. News reports speculate on this year’s sales and potential prize amounts. Friends and coworkers discuss number selections and their plans if they win big. Adults buy tickets for children who can’t play yet, so they don’t miss out.
Leading up to Christmas Eve, the crescendo builds. Then finally it culminates in a nationwide television broadcast of the drawing revealing the fateful winning numbers. Everyone collectively holds their breath, transfixed on whether this just might be the year that changes everything.
El Gordo is more than just a lottery in Costa Rica; it’s a shared ritual that brings them together. Even those who don’t play still tune in for the show’s musical acts and entertainment. With prizes potentially worth hundreds of millions of colones, El Gordo creates a feeling that anything is possible. It represents hopes and dreams during the Christmas season where family and togetherness are cherished most.
How to Play the Lottery
I’ll explain the basics of how to get your own shot at joining the ranks of El Gordo winners. First, lottery tickets go on sale across authorized vendors in Costa Rica every October 25th. This allows two months of eager anticipation before the Christmas Eve draw.
Tickets cost 5,000 colones each and feature combinations of 4 numbers from 0000 to 9999. Many players buy multiples to increase chances and share with family or friends. You can pick your own numbers, do randomized quick picks, or buy pre-printed raffle tickets.
After getting your tickets, all that’s left is to anxiously wait for Christmas Eve and tune in to the hugely popular televised draw at 6:55 pm. This broadcast on national channels builds excitement before revealing the long-awaited winning number sequence.
Prizes and Winners
What makes tickets sell like hotcakes is the chance at life-changing prize winnings. The total prize pool is over 3.3 billion colones (around $5.3 million). The top “El Gordo” fat prize is typically around 500 million colones itself. There are smaller tiered prizes as well for matching parts of the winning number combination.
Winners have up to 60 days to redeem at JPS lottery offices in San Jose. You’ll need to show ID and the original ticket to start the validation and claiming process. This involves verifying identity and ticket legitimacy, then receiving your jackpot after taxes.
JPS publishes official lists of winners and locations. Some lucky past jackpot El Gordo winners have included a farm owner in Guanacaste in 2017 and a family from Puntarenas in 2021, showing dreams really can come true!
Traditions and Celebrations
Beyond just the prizes, El Gordo Navideño brings out the Christmas spirit in Costa Rica through the various traditions and celebrations associated with it, such as:
- Friends and coworkers exchange tickets as gifts and check numbers together before the big night.
- Companies often hand out complimentary raffle tickets to employees as holiday bonuses. Kids get tickets in their Christmas stockings.
- Groups organize decentralized parties to watch the dramatic televised drawing together and await results.
- Ticos pack local bars that broadcast the show, filling the air with almost palpable anticipation.
- Fireworks blast when locals match the winning number, filling streets with jubilation. News cameras capture celebrations of the winners.
- For many families, the ritual of watching the drawing on Christmas Eve is just as exciting as opening presents.
- Even without winning, sharing in the experience and collectively willing a victory builds community.
Why El Gordo Captivates Costa Rica
It’s evident why El Gordo Navideño occupies such a special place in the hearts of Costa Ricans. It represents hopes and dreams coming true, set against the nostalgia of Christmas and community. Its familiar rhythms passing annually connect the present to cherished memories.
The lottery also promotes a spirit of giving – proceeds are earmarked to support education, health, and social welfare across the country. So, by playing, Costa Ricans look out for each other.
Ultimately, El Gordo magnifies the magic inherent in the holiday season. It captures imaginations, brings people together, and makes just about anything seem possible.