The relatives are gone. The dishes are clean. The discarded wrapping paper has been thrown away. Tired after a long Christmas Day, you want nothing more than to curl up by the fireplace with a glass of eggnog or a shot of bourbon.
But wait, you're all out! In the craziness of the past few weeks, you've forgotten to replenish your liquor stores. Not the cheap booze you served your extended family earlier (which they quickly finished anyway), but the good stuff—the liquor you keep for you and only you to enjoy.
Not to worry, you think. A quick trip to the liquor store will make things right.
Wrong. In nearly half the states across the country, the government makes it difficult for you to buy booze on Christmas Day.
In some states, bars are open on Christmas Day, but not liquor stores. Sales of beer and wine are fine in many places, but not hard alcohol. As Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explained to Reason, other states run the liquor retailers and can thus ban sales without formally banning them. "They don't have a law against buying alcohol on holidays, but they do shut down on the holidays," Minton says. "It functionally is a ban on retail liquor sales."
For the most part, Minton says regulations on Christmas Day alcohol sales are "part of the blue-law category," meaning they have religious justifications. And the modern laws originate from the end of Prohibition in 1933. "When the states decided to legalize [alcohol] again, a lot of them instituted blue laws," Minton says, "and it's taken this long for most of the states to slowly get rid of them." Blue laws originally banned alcohol sales on Sundays, then "extended to mostly Christian holidays but also some federal holidays."
In her report, Minton detailed the 24 states with Christmas Day alcohol bans still in place.
"It shall be unlawful to sell intoxicating liquors on Christmas Day," state law reads. Not obeying is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by 90 days behind bars and/or a $1,000 fine. The blanket ban applies to bars and liquor stores, as well as grocery stores, where customers can usually buy beer and wine.
Colorado will let you buy alcohol at bars or restaurants, but you can't purcahse any kind of booze from establishments with "off-premise liquor licenses," meaning liquor stores, grocery stores, and drug stores.
The only place you'll be able to get alcohol on Christmas Day, as well as New Year's Day and Thanksgiving, is at a bar or restaurant licensed to sell booze. Retail sales of alcohol are completely banned. This extends to grocery stores, which can sell beer (though not wine) throughout most of the year.
Georgia leaves it up to each individual municipality to determine whether or not to ban alcohol sales on Christmas. In places like the city of Athens and Halle County, alcohol sales are completely banned.
Idaho, which has state-run liquor stores, bans retail liquor sales on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving. You can still buy beer and wine at the grocery store, or hard liquor at a bar.
Retail sales of most alcoholic beverages are banned in Kansas on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Even when it's not one of those holidays, the only retailers allowed to sell most kinds of package alcohol are designated liquor stores.
Massachusetts bans all retail liquor sales on Christmas and Thanksgiving. That's not the state's only outdated restriction on alcohol sales. The state also bans bars from offering happy hour deals or other alcohol-based promotions.
The retail sales of "intoxicating liquor"—anything with an alcohol by weight (ABW) greater than 3.2 percent—is banned from 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.
- New Hampshire
New Hampshire doesn't outright ban liquor sales on Christmas. But the state government does run the liquor and wine retailers, all of which are closed on Christmas.
- New Mexico
Retail alcohol sales are completely banned on Christmas.
- New York
Retailers that sell liquor and wine are required to be closed on Christmas. It doesn't sound like that applies to beer, which you can get at grocery and convenience stores.
- North Carolina
North Carolina's state-run liquor stores are closed on Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and all Sundays. You can still purchase wine and beer at grocery stores.
- North Dakota
North Dakota bans all retail sales of alcohol from 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.
Ohio runs all of the state's liquor stores via its Division of Liquor Control (DLC). According to the CEI report, DLC stores are generally closed on Christmas.
Retail sales at liquor stores are completely banned on Christmas, New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving Day. But thanks to a new law that went into effect October 1, grocery stores can sell beer and wine year-round.
Pennsylvania's Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores, which are regulated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, are closed on Christmas Day.
- South Carolina
Retail sales of "alcoholic liquors" are not allowed on Christmas. The relevant law makes it sound as if this includes hard liquor, beer, and wine.
- South Dakota
Retail liquor sales are banned on Christmas Day in South Dakota.
It's illegal for retailers to sell wine and liquor on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
All sales of liquor are against the law on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The ban extends to the following Monday if Christmas and New Year's Day are on Sunday.
For the most part, the only place where you can buy alcohol over 3.2 percent ABW are state-run stores, which are closed on Christmas. As the CEI report notes, you might be able to get around this by visiting one of Utah's breweries, wineries, or distilleries, which have been granted state licenses to sell their products whenever they want.
Virginia's state-run liquor stores are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.
- West Virginia
West Virginia state law bans liquor retail sales on Christmas Day.
Will these laws ever go away?
Why do all these laws still exist? According to Minton, the "bootlegger-Baptist" phenomenon, named by economist Bruce Yandle, remains in effect. Essentially, Baptists don't want people drinking, and bootleggers don't want to compete with legal purveyors of alcohol. "They don't like each other and they don't really want the same outcome, but they for various reasons support the same policy goals," Minton says.
The biggest reason you might have a hard time buying alcohol on Christmas is that no one wants to put the effort into enacting change. "It takes a very long time and a lot of effort, and a lot of money, usually, to get some kind of measure," Minton says. "Not a whole lot of people are really willing to stick their neck out for something that seems as small as a holiday alcohol ban."
So stock up before the 25th.
Correction: This post previously stated that retail sales of all alcoholic beverages in Oklahoma are completely banned on Christmas, New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving Day. But thanks to a new law that went into effect October 1, grocery stores can now sell beer and wine year-round.