Alberta liquor officials eye allowing bars to open on Christmas Day

When it comes to holiday cheer, Alberta has plenty — it’s the holidays cheers this province is lacking.

But Alberta’s current mandatory bar closure on Christmas Day could soon be part of Alberta’s past, under a review of all liquor hours planned for early in 2015 — and by next Christmas Day, pubs may be allowed to open for toasting in the Yuletide.

“The would be just one of things we’re looking at — we’ll be working with the Alberta government to do a review of our liquor laws and policies, and hours of operation will be part of that review,” said Jody Korchinski, director of communications for the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission.

“We’re looking to start that review sometime in the New Year, but before we do any widespread changes to hours of operation, we want to do a full consultation to make sure we get input from a variety of stakeholders.”

Under current provincial rules, December 25 is the only date on the calendar when Alberta’s pubs and bars are forced to close: “Class A licences permit the sale of liquor from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. daily, except for Christmas Day when premises which prohibit minors must remain closed.”

So while licenced establishments like restaurants and theatres can open for business as usual — and many do — places dedicated to getting adults tipsy are forced to shut their doors.

It’s an illogical law dating back to Alberta’s puritan days, when everything possible was done to make drinking in public as dreary an affair as possible, from banning music and dancing, to keeping the sinners at bay with draconian hours.

Christmas, being a religious holiday in a province where the vast majority were once Christian church-going folk, was deemed a sacred day of enforced sobriety — at least in public.

And so it remains, even as other provinces, including Saskatchewan and British Columbia, allow bars to open any day they like, including Christmas Day.

But Alberta has been relaxing it’s drinking rules of late, and soon, the mandatory Christmas Day closure may end.

You might wonder who would possibly want to go drinking in a bar on day dedicated to family, but that would overlook the thousands of Christmas “orphans” who end up separated from their loved ones by work, or financial circumstance.

Alberta, as Canada’s hub of economic growth, has more than its share of single young workers who’d probably appreciate having somewhere social to go on a day that can otherwise seem very lonely.

And then there’s the cultural shift in the decades since this province passed a law catering to puritan Christian values — and in a multicultural, religiously diverse society, there’s no room for rules that single out one denomination as special.

Still, Christmas is celebrated by most Albertans, and it has been a day when most workers are free to spend the day with family and friends.

Allowing bars to open might change that — but in B.C. at least, the ones that do choose to open are still relatively rare.

“We are usually closed Christmas Day, unless a staff member makes it clear they want to work it,” said Jack Boden, manager of Cheers pub in Abbotsford B.C.

“With me being from England, and we also have another server from England, our families are back in the U.K., so our customers are kind of like our little family away from home.”

And so, much like the bars do back in Britain, Boden will open Cheers pub for three hours over lunch on Christmas Day, for anyone who’d like to a chance to raise a glass and wish their friends and neighbours a Merry Christmas.

“In England, pubs always open, and it’s a chance to go out, see all your friends to say Merry Christmas, and then be on your way,” said Boden, who’s been in Canada for a year.

“So we thought we’d put a poster up, seeing if there was any interest in trying it here, and it seems there is — and we’re more than happy to do it.”


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