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Why You Can’t Buy Liquor In Texas On New Year's Day

In Texas you have to stock up early for the holidays
Photo: Quality Stock Arts | Shutterstock

If you want to wow your guests with a homemade craft cocktail on New Year's Day, you better get stocked up early. Texans are well acquainted with the “Sunday rule,” but for newcomers, Texas alcohol laws might be a bit tricky. Here’s a handy guide to know when and where you can buy alcohol during the holidays.

Sales restrictions on some alcoholic beverages on Sundays are one of Texas’ so-called blue laws, most commonly known as Sunday laws. These are rules that restrict or ban some activities on Sundays to promote the observance of a day of rest. 

If you think this sounds like an old law, you’d be right. The tradition was brought to America by colonial settlements with the earliest law enacted in Jamestown Colony in 1619, but you can find the very first example of a rule regarding the prohibition of Sunday labor based on religious reasons in Roman Emperor Constantine’s Codex Justinianus written in 321 AD: “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”

Although most blue laws in the U.S. have been repealed, our Lone Star State still holds a couple, including certain alcohol sale restrictions as well as car dealerships who have to choose to work either Saturday or Sunday, but not both. Luckily, since 1985 we can buy pots, pans, knives, nails and washing machines on Sunday. Phew!

In addition to being an old tradition, the sale restrictions of alcoholic beverages are not as straightforward as you’d expect. Texas has two criteria to ban alcoholic beverages – by the type of alcohol sold and whether the beverage will be consumed on-site or off-premises. Any drink with more than 4% alcohol is considered “liquor” and thus is more restricted. 

This is why you’ll see supermarkets and grocery and convenience stores selling beer and wine from 10:00 a.m. to midnight and some bars in big cities will stay open until 2:00 a.m. on Christmas and New Year's Day, but liquor stores will remain closed until Monday. Last year, since Christmas and New Year's Day fell on a Sunday, liquor and package stores remained closed for 61 hours straight two weeks in a row.

According to NBCDFW, over time Texas’s Sunday rule added three special holidays: In 1967 Christmas was added as a day for alcohol sales to be restricted and later in 1979 Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day joined the (tamed) party. This addition to the Sunday law also stated that if any of these holidays falls on a Sunday, then the following Monday liquor and package stores must be closed. 

If you can outrun the freezing cold reaching North Texas, this is the time to get stocked up.