With cheers, hugs and sparkling wine, lucky winners across Spain on Thursday celebrated clinching a share of the prize money in the centuries-old Christmas lottery that marks the beginning of the country's festive season.

The top prize, known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One), rewarded many winners across several regions, as the same number was sold multiple times. This year, the total prize pot reached 2.52 billion euros ($2.68 billion), slightly more than last year's 2.41 billion.

In a nationally televised draw at Madrid's Teatro Real, young pupils from the San Ildefonso school picked the winning numbers from two revolving orbs and then sang them out to an audience clad in Santa hats and other festive clothing.

As Spain, like other European countries, faces a cost-of-living crisis and stagnating wages, the Christmas lottery draw has taken on added significance.
Commotion erupted in the theatre when Perla, a Peruvian-born unemployed mother of two sitting in the theatre, realised she had a winning El Gordo number in her hand.

She told reporters she would spend the proceeds - 400,000 euros before taxes - on a new house, educating her children and a donation to the Catholic Church.

The lottery tradition dates back to 1812, when Spain was under French occupation during the Napoleonic Wars and the draw was designed to raise funds to fight.
In the months leading up to Dec. 22, it is common for relatives, co-workers, groups of friends and members of clubs to pool their money to buy tickets together, often favouring numbers based on personal superstition.

Spaniards spend an average of 66.6 euros on El Gordo tickets, according to vendors' association Anapal. The best-selling ticket, dubbed "decimo" (tenth), costs 20 euros and its holders can earn 10% of the prize money awarded.