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Monday, December 16, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Santa Debunker Is Feeling The Heat

Providence Journal

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. - A philosophy professor's advice that parents should tell their children "the truth" about Santa Claus has flashed around the world almost as fast as Santa himself can travel - and the general reaction has been that she should expect coal in her stocking this year.

From Canada to Australia, radio stations have called University of Rhode Island Professor Judith Boss, asking her to explain her stance.

Boss said she has also taken heavy criticism on the talk-show circuit from Providence to Austin, Texas.

Among her critics were an "official" Santa Claus who lives in Rhode Island, and a pair of angels.

The "angels," whom she described as the "rudest" talk-show hosts to reach her, were Curtis and Lisa Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels, a group of self-appointed peacekeepers. The Sliwas now host a talk show on radio station WABC in New York City.

"They wouldn't let me finish a sentence," said Boss. "(Curtis) ended up screaming, `I hate Judy Boss! I hate Judy Boss!' "

On the other hand, she said, a talk-show host calling from Sydney, Australia, while disagreeing with her, was polite in hearing her out. The Canadian call came from Calgary, Alberta, and that show's host seemed to agree with her, she said.

Closer to home, Boss said, she was roundly chastised for an hour by callers on the Steve Kass talk show on WHJJ, but that Kass himself was fair and low-key as moderator.

Joseph W. Frisella of Wakefield, himself a bona fide Rhode Island Santa Claus, insisted that it's Professor Boss who doesn't know the truth about Santa.

As far as Frisella, 52, is concerned, the spirit of St. Nick burns brighter than ever. And he insists that he's qualified to say so because he's been playing Santa for 27 years - and was appointed the "official" Santa Claus of Narragansett by a vote of the Town Council.

Boss, meanwhile, says that some people have called her un-American, and "I sort of feel bad, because I don't want to upset people."

But she stands by her opinion, which she set forth recently in Free Inquiry magazine: "You shouldn't tell your children Santa Claus is a real live person because it's a lie. It's not right to lie to children, even if the lie amuses you."

Boss said she doesn't want to take the spirit of Santa out of Christmas festivities. Children should be encouraged to make up stories about the generous and jolly old elf, but they should not be told he is real, she said.

"Children do as you do, they don't do as you say," Boss said. "If you lie to them, they'll lie to you."

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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