Navigating Mexico: Dry Laws
By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
All countries have old laws on the books which might have made sense for a former time but are no longer needed or enforced.
Mexico not only enforces some outdated customs, but there is no law to some of these customs that are enforced.
The dry law, or ley seca, is common place in Mexico around the times of elections but is also used around some religious celebrations.
These laws have been around forever, yet no one knows how a government can forbid the sale of something which is legal.
A city officially proclaims an edict, but I would guess it could easily be legally challenged since government can only enforce existing laws.
The practice of patron-saint celebrations goes back to the 500-years-ago arrival of the first Spanish missionaries.
Towns and villages at the time were generally renamed after a Catholic saint.
Most Mexican towns have a Spanish name and an original name — San Andrés Cholula, or Santa Barbara Almoloya, for example.
Beyond Easter week and Christmas, each town’s patron saint was — and, in most of Mexico, still is — celebrated each year on the nine days leading up to the saint’s date of the yearly Catholic calendar.
Folks who moved to the big city or to the United States typically returned to their home towns each year to keep in touch with their roots.
Because literally everything closed down in small towns on the last few of these nine days, including bars, the practice crept into urban life as well.
It seems hard to believe that in modern day Mexico City, the practice continues.
For example, in the municipality of Magdalena Contreras, a poorer area of capital, for the celebration of Santa María Atlitic from Friday, July 21, to Monday, July 24, no alcohol is to be sold.
Restaurants can serve alcohol if food is being consumed, but convenience stores like Oxxo and supermarkets will have cords and signs over their alcohol sections.
This might have made sense in a time when literally all commercial activity stopped in some small towns and villages that wanted everyone to participate in the religious activities. Plus, men were home from work on those days.
These practices have obviously been around long before Amazon and Walmart on line, so I guess there are some workarounds.
Sanctions exist as well, with fines from 2 to 20,000 pesos, or arrest of 25 to 36 hours.
There probably would be some legal foundation for the fines if the government were to declare quarantine for a health issue, but I doubt my town’s patron saint as a legitimate justification would hold up on court as a valid defense.
But, in 2023 this concept smacks of a mentality of poor people not being able control their primal instincts so Big Brother needs to step in.
Traditions die hard in most places, and typically never really die fully in Mexico.