Closing Day

When you come from a 24/7 city. Christmas Day can be very weird as almost everything shuts down.

One thing that I understand is kind of unique about most big cities in the United States is that things don’t close. Or, rather, companies will close in the evening at various hours and open in the morning, but most of them that serve the public are also open seven days a week, including Sundays.

Some, like grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and gas stations, are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Smaller businesses, particularly family-owned ones, will often close one or two days a week, but more often than not they will choose to close on Monday and stay open on Sundays.

Traditionally in theatre — although I don’t think this is strictly limited to the U.S. — Monday is “dark night” when the regular show does not go up. Large theatres play six days a week. Most small theatres only have shows up on Thursdays through Sundays.

Unless you live in a “dry” county in a state that set it up that way, you can also buy alcohol any day of the week, provided that you do it during the hours it can be sold. In Los Angeles, “last call” at bars is at 2 a.m. Beer, wine, and liquor are all available at bars, liquor stores and grocery stores. Sales hours are from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., except in areas with special restrictions, i.e., a store is within a certain distance of a school, in which case the cut-off is 10 p.m.

This does contrast with other places, like New York State, where you can only get beer at grocery stores but have to buy wine and liquor at designated liquor stores, with bars being the exception, of course, where you can get all three. Oddly enough, beer can be sold 24 hours a day any day of the week, while wine and liquor can only be sold 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday in stores, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays. There’s also no alcohol service in New York City before noon on Sunday, although that law may have changed.

But here’s the point. If I have the sudden urge to go out and get comfort food at a diner at 3 a.m., then I can probably find one open within a few miles of home. If I need emergency medication or run out of TP at midnight, same thing. If I suddenly wake up in a panic and realize I need gas at 4 a.m., I can drive out and get it

Not everything is open at those hours, of course, but not all of them need to be. I’m unlikely to need to get a suit cleaned in the middle of the night; it can wait until morning.

The real life-saver, though, is most places being open on Sundays as well. I’ve been in towns where everything shuts down on that day, and it’s a royal pain in the ass because there’s nothing to do. These are places where they expect people to spend all day in church, so no distractions, dammit! But I couldn’t think of a bigger waste of time if I tried.

There are a few larger cities in the U.S., many of them which originally had a very strong Catholic influence in local government, that do have local “blue laws,” which do say that most businesses cannot open on Sunday. Fortunately, L.A. isn’t one of them.

And this is why Christmas is always so surreal to me, because it’s the one day of the year that almost everything does shut down. The roads are deserted, and even most of the 24/7 places are shuttered. You can still get to an open E.R. (that’s A&E in the UK) and both Chinese restaurants and 7-Elevens are still open.

You may not have heard of 7-Eleven if you’re not in the right region, but it’s basically a convenience store that got its name when its hours were 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Those hours eventually expanded to 24, but the original name stuck. It was the major inspiration for the Kwik-E-Mart in the Simpsons, and in 2007, eleven 7-Elevens in the U.S. and Canada were turned into real-life Kwik-E-Marts for a brief time as a tie-in to the Simpsons movie.

I was lucky enough to visit the one near me in Burbank, and it was a trip. Since then, Universal Studios in both Hollywood and Florida have permanent Kwik-E-Marts within their parks, and there’s a stand-alone faux (but licensed) Kwik-E-Mart in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

As for the Chinese restaurants, since they’re the only places serving on Christmas, they have become very popular places over the years with Jewish residents of the city, who take their families out to dinner every Christmas, or order take-out.

This one isn’t limited to just L.A. — it’s pretty common in any large city with a substantial Jewish population.

One other thing you can always do on Christmas Day? Go see a movie! Theatres are open because they’ve grown savvy to the idea that once all the gifts are open and the family has hung out together for too long, the big treat they can share is getting the hell out of the house and enjoying the latest film together.

I have a friend who, pre-COVID, used to host an annual Christmas event in which a group of us would gather at the local multiplex, and then spend the entire day watching as many of the newer releases as possible.

People could come to see all of the films, which was usually about six or seven, unless there were a couple of shorter family flicks in the mix, or they could pick the films they wanted to see and join up with the group then. I think the whole group would meet for breakfast before the first show, which would literally be the first show, and then everything was timed out to go from theater to theater with minimal time in between except for a quick dinner beak.

Lunch would be handled via theatre nachos, hot dogs, and the like some time during the first early-afternoon movie. Although I never did the full experience — mainly because there were a lot of films I didn’t want to see — I made it to a couple, and it really was a great way to spend Christmas.

Note: Studios do not actually release Christmas movies on Christmas because it’s too late. Those come out in November and usually get yanked right after Christmas. A lot of new releases actually tend to be horror, action, or Oscar bait, especially because one of the qualifying rules for nomination used to be at least one week’s theatrical run in Los Angeles County (or one of six other qualifying metro areas).

Technically, a film has to show in a theater in Los Angeles before it shows on any streaming, video on demand, or other broadcast service in order to be eligible, and while it seems like that rule may have gone out the window, the non-theatrical exhibition is limited to “on or after” the first day it plays in L.A.

So schedule the first showing as a midnight screening, release it on digital as that screening ends, and you’re safe.

The important qualifier is that the film has to air during the calendar year ending on December 31st, so by premiering on Christmas, they get the exact number of screening days that they need. And a lot of prestige releases get pushed into December anyway, before Christmas or on it. This year saw films like West Side Story, The Matrix Resurrections, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Being the Ricardos all pop out in December, with American Underdog, The Tragedy of MacBeth, and Licorice Pizza coming out on Christmas.

But this is all the long way around of me saying how weird I find Christmas Day in Los Angeles to be — more so if it’s a weekday and not a Saturday or Sunday — but I can pretty much only go to a couple of stores for urgent necessities, get fresh Chinese food, or see lots of movies.

I think I’ll just stay in, instead, and stream lots of movies at home. Or write stuff. Or both.

Merry Christmas Day — or whatever you do or don’t celebrate! And, as always, greetings to all of my international followers. Don’t be shy. Say “hello” in the comments!

Image source: Artaxerxes, (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

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