I never left cookies for Santa. I never snuck out of bed to catch a glimpse of his reindeer. In fact, I never believed in him at all.

Yes, I still listen to Christmas music. No, I don’t burn Advent calendars or shudder at the sight of lighted houses. But throughout my life, the fact that I’ve never celebrated this dear tradition has plagued me. Sneering high-school comments have sent me on a journey of reconciliation. Will I ever understand the wide-eyed wonder of a child on Christmas morning? Maybe I’m forever destined to view Christmas through the lens of a 43-year-old workaholic. How could such a misfortune have befallen me? This isn’t one of those my-older-brother-ruined-it-when-I-was-4 scenarios; it was simply never part of my Christmas morning.

Before you call me a Christmas-hating monster, let me pass the blame. When I was old enough to start believing in Santa, my spawn-of-Krampus parents sat me down to cure me of all Christmas innocence. They called Santa “a game parents play with their kids.” They said they didn’t like the concept of coercing kids into good behavior for Santa’s reward. And they said it was cruel to make kids cry when their holiday fantasy came crashing down around them.

Nipping Santa in the bud was quite possibly one of the worst parenting decisions since Ralphie’s dad (“Santa”) let him get the Red Ryder BB gun.

Nonetheless, I never broke the news to anyone in my class. I should have felt like the smartest second grader on the planet. (“Teacher, why must I share crayons with these Santa-believing Neanderthals? Haven’t you a special box for the enlightened?”) And I never had reverse Santa doubt either. My parents snapping, “Don’t look in that bag!” made it pretty clear that Santa wasn’t the source of wrapping paper joy.

To this day, my dad writes, “To: Anna From: Santa” on my presents, to which I respond with the you-ruined-my-childhood death smile. I don’t think either of my parents regrets the decision to be honest with me, but I know it spawned from pure selfishness. They wanted the Christmas morning hugs and “Thanks, Mom!” rather than watching it go to some fictitious reindeer herder.

I imagine my Christmas is slightly different than a former believer. I never sat on a mall Santa’s lap until my 14th birthday as a joke at a rundown outlet, and I must say, the resulting picture is enough to scare any hovering mother.

I also know that, for many people, Santa is a cherished memory, reminding them of a time when they were so innocently willing to believe in Christmas magic. And there’s something special about that; it’s the reason so many adults have fond memories of Santa and, perhaps most tellingly, the reason it lives on as a beloved tradition. Santa represents Christmas cheer, love and warm feelings — sentiments everyone can appreciate, regardless of their Santa past. I’ll never understand what I missed out on, but I do know one thing: If there’s a jolly, bearded man somewhere in the frosty North Pole, I’ll indefinitely be on the naughty list.