Starting on Thanksgiving morning, with that first Bloody Mary, and ending with that last glass of Champagne on New Year’s Eve, the holidays are a liver-busting, moonshine marathon. There’s rum cake, rum balls, rum punch, red wine, white wine, brown water, and plenty of bubbly. It’s a wonder we remember the holidays at all. But then again, maybe that’s the point. Do you really want to remember your obnoxious brother-in-law and Aunt Ethel’s fruitcake?
Of course, at one point in our nation’s history, such revelry would have landed you in the pokey. We’ve forgotten how much easier (and legal) it is for us to get a little tipsy and flirt with our secretaries at the office holiday party.
And so during this time of giving and giving thanks, it is only proper that we remember an obscure date that went unnoticed about ten days ago: the end of Prohibition. On December 5, 1933, the humble State of Utah adopted the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thus making it possible for many a husband to tolerate his mother-in-law at Christmas.
But how the heck did Prohibition even happen in the first place? Did we really amend the oldest written constitution in the world to outlaw non-GMO drinks that have been around since ancient Egypt?
Yep, we sure did.
To add insult to injury, the enabling act for the amendment was called the Volstead Act, named after Congressman Andrew Volstead of Minnesota. It is only fitting that an act to take all the fun out of Christmas was named after someone who sounds like a bad guy from a Harry Potter novel.
Prohibition’s proponents were mostly rural; its opponents, mostly urban—a political divide that endures to this day. And like all social and political movements, there were those who were true of heart in their motivations, and those who were not (in the North, there was a strong anti-immigrant motivation for prohibition; in the South, it was racial).
We all know what happened during the next thirteen years: bootleggers, Al Capone, speakeasies, bathtub gin, Jazz, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway (ok, the last two are not too bad).
What killed Prohibition was money. With the Great Depression dragging on into its fourth year, the federal government found itself short on revenue from the absence of alcohol taxes. And so on December 5, 1933, the State of Utah opened up the taps. Just in time for a holiday on ice. Cheers!