In recent years my family holiday festivities have turned into quite the non-traditional celebration. In fact, we don’t get together with family, and instead opt for a group of family-friends instead. Our group is of mixed religion, so we often serve Jewish and Christmas food along side each other.

We keep our spirits merry and bright with an abundance adult beverages and plenty of jokes to go around. Our guests arrive in sweatpants or skip straight to pajamas and leave with Tupperware full of leftover treats. But my holidays weren’t always like this.

When gathering information for this post, I learned a secret my parents managed to keep from me for nearly 24 years.

My family lives in the south suburbs of Chicago, but I also have relatives in a small town across the Mississippi River in Iowa. Growing up, we visited my Iowa family for holidays, birthdays, and often times, just for fun. I have so many fond memories I made in Iowa that I decided to go to the University of Iowa. The Hawkeye state always felt like a second home to me, so as a child I was always excited to spend Christmas away from Illinois.

Apparently, though, all the Christmas celebrations I had were never actually on Christmas Day.  This was news to me. Santa would come to my family’s home a day early, on Christmas Eve, and we would drive to Iowa on Christmas Day—or what I thought was the day after Christmas for a second celebration. I ended up celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve like that for the majority of my childhood.

This was clearly never an issue, since I never knew until recently. However, one year, when travel plans had been interrupted, the Christmas on Christmas Eve traditions threw off our celebration. My mother was so used to our early celebration schedule, that she forgot to buy food for Christmas dinner before all the stores closed. That year, we had lovely Christmas hotdogs.

We do not have any big traditions. But, it is fitting that now my celebrations have continued to be just as non-traditional as the year that we had hotdogs for dinner.