I’ve woken up in my own bed on the 25th twice in all of my 25 years of celebrating Christmas. I moved constantly around the world, never living in the same city as my relatives. Instead of reading T’was the Night Before Christmas in matching pajamas by the fireplace, Christmas meant spending endless hours at the airport due to delayed flights–Kevin McAllister’s mom from Home Alone struck way too close to home. It was the luck of the draw where we would go: sunny beautiful San Diego or grey, rainy Vancouver depending which grandparents wanted us more that year. I never had a traditional Christmas. But when you miss out on tradition, you wind up making your own.

You always wondered if Santa actually checked his list twice.

You spent the month leading up to Christmas begging your parents to tell you which of your relatives you would be staying with on the 25th (since you were always playing musical couch between all your aunts and uncles) so you could write to Santa and make sure he had an updated address for you in his book. But no matter how early you sent that letter, it got lost in the mail every year. Come the 25th, Santa would always drop off your presents at your house and never at any of your 20 relatives. You personally made sure to call every one of them to make sure they checked under their tree for you. But nope. You would have to wait until you got home to open them.

You were convinced Santa didn’t bring gifts to your hotel because you never left him milk and cookies

You would always try to pack milk and cookies in your suitcase so you could have them for Santa, since there was never a grocery store near by the local motel at Grandma’s. Even if they did, the EconoLodge doesn’t stock a whole lot of cups and plates in the room. No matter where you hid them in your suitcase, the milk would never make it past security, no matter how many socks you wrapped around the jug. On the 25th, you were always depressed to find that your attempts at childhood bribery came to nothing.

The Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy were not real but Santa Clause definitely was

You believed Santa was real longer than any of your friends. When it came time to go on one of those holiday trips, you always left the house last, because you had to “pee” for the 14th time. Before leaving, you’d always check one last time for presents under the tree, and even on the mantle. But it was always empty, because it was only December 23rd, and Santa’s got a schedule to keep. And yet, somehow, magically, presents always seemed to appear from Santa by the time you came home on the 29th. It couldn’t have been mom and dad. You were always the first one in the house, sprinting out of the car like a jack out of a box. I mean, if it wasn’t Santa, who could it have been? That creepy neighbor that had a key that mom always slipped a twenty on the way out the door?

You never got the pink Barbie Dream Car.

At the top of your Christmas list every year was the pink Barbie Dream Car. All your friends had one and rode around the neighborhood squad style while you had to follow behind on your Razor scooter. Your parents would never get it for you–it was just way too much of a hassle to move–but you always told your cool aunt about it over Thanksgiving because she always got you the best gifts. But even then, she never got you the pink Barbie Dream Car that you had to have (why didn’t anyone understand!), because every time you flew to her house for the holidays, and the life-size car would never fit in your carry on suitcase.

You never knew Christmas tree scent came from a real tree because you thought it came from the candle on the mantle.

Every year, the day after thanksgiving, you and your brothers would pull everything out of the garage and dig through the cobwebs to find the pre-lit Christmas tree pieces and put it together. Because you’d be gone for a week or more, your parents convinced you having a real tree was unsafe; they didn’t want to take the chance of the tree drying out and catching on fire while you were away. But in all actuality, they just didn’t want to deal with vacuuming the pine needles everyday of December. It was far too much trouble to trek out to the Christmas tree farm and find the perfectly tall, even sided, lots-of-branches-but-not-too-many tree that would also fit on the roof of the car. They had you convinced that a fake tree was just as great as a real tree, and in retaliation you will spend the next twenty years trying to fit a goddamn redwood into your living room.

You never packed enough clothes for your Christmas Vacation

You always left plenty of space in your suitcase for the potential presents your relatives were going to get you. This mean you had to make sacrifices. You forfeited clean underwear and extra shirts just so you wouldn’t have to ship back that Barbie Dream House and risk having to wait to play with it when you got home. To your disappointment, your relatives just gave you money. They were worried you wouldn’t have enough room to take anything back.

You had a private matinee screening on Christmas Day

All your relatives were doing their Christmas traditions and exchanging gifts, but there wasn’t much you and your brothers could do beyond sit and congratulate them on their loot. Those rainy Christmases were even worse when it the basketball court down the street from grandma’s was flooded. Luckily the local movie theatre was open. Positive: it was so empty that you could not only sit in the middle of the row in the middle of the theater (aka prime real estate), but you could even put your feet up on the seat in front of you. Negative: since no one was there, the Icee machine was never working. And when you’re twelve years old, what’s the point?

You always had a Christmas meal with the Jews

The years you stayed in the local motel in grandma’s town across from the Applebee’s, there weren’t many options for meals. With 95% of the restaurants closed on Christmas day, the only option was Chinese. There was a huge Jewish community just two blocks away, so naturally, the place was packed with people getting on their dim sum. Being Chinese American, you would think your family would blend right in and it would seem normal for us to be there. Wrong. No one who celebrates Christmas eats out for Christmas dinner unless you are Jewish, and apparently there are more Chinese Jews than you’d think.