(Editor's Note: Bob Urban, author of the weekly Back Again column, is home baking a Christmas fruit cake. Substituting for him this week is Bruce Frassinelli, a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill School, who lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)

By BRUCE FRASSINELLI

tneditor@tnonline.com

I am hoping to survive another Christmas without being confronted with questions about the existence of Santa Claus.

With nine grandchildren, I have lived in mortal fear that one of them would ask with wide-eyed innocence, "Grandpop, my friend told me there is no Santa Claus; is that true?"

The simple way around this is to vehemently deny the friend's hard-hearted revelation, but I have made a promise: I will never knowingly lie to my grandchildren.

"You're not really lying," says my wife, Marie, but I disagree. "But it's a lie for a good cause," she counters. Teaching a course in Communication Ethics, I am constantly prodding my students to think about lying as a form of unethical behavior. We have frequently discussed whether the so-called "little white lies" should be in a different category.

For example, do you tell your wife the truth - that the new dress she just bought makes her look frumpy or do you avoid confrontation and, perhaps, the silent treatment that will likely follow, and lie?

If my 9-year-old granddaughter, Andrea, confronts me with the dreaded Santa Claus question, I probably will refer her to her parents. Let them lie or be the bearers of the bad news.

I admit to being ultra-sensitive because of the hare-brained, unthinking sin I committed when I was 10. I had stopped believing in Santa Claus a year earlier when I questioned the improbability that one man could visit every house in the world during one night's hours of darkness - with flying reindeer no less. (I was also silently curious as to why no one on our block of East Hazard Street in Summit Hill ever complained of finding reindeer poop on their roofs.)

When I approached my mother with my suspicions, she at first tried to lead me in a different direction. When it became apparent I was not going to drop the subject, she finally admitted that it was she and pop who provided the Christmas Day goodies.

Now armed with the truth, I was prepared to confront the believers with my newly acquired knowledge and debunk this whole Santa Claus scam. The first opportunity came when we were visiting my mother's older friend in Bethlehem. The friend's seven-year-old granddaughter was there, too.

We were playing a game when the topic of Santa came up. She was going on about what she wanted Santa to bring her for Christmas. I told her straight out: "You're a fool; there is no Santa Claus."

I saw a look come over her face that was not unlike the terror one experiences when learning of the loss of a loved one or a pet. Seconds later, she screamed and began sobbing uncontrollably. Her mother and my mother ran to find out what had happened. She told them what I had said.

My mother flashed me a look which, translated, meant, "You're in big trouble when we get home, Mister." My mother did punish me when we got home. I was thoroughly confused: I was being punished for telling the truth. Where's the fairness? Didn't mom always admonish me: Never lie?

My mother tried to explain that I had no business to be the one to break such crushing news to a seven-year-old believer. The girl's mother reported several days later that her daughter had had recurring nightmares about my disclosure and she, too, was really angry about my insensitivity.

Chastened by this long-ago episode, I now want to make sure I don't compound my error by mishandling a direct Santa question. All I want for Christmas is to be spared the question in the first place. That's probably why when Andrea is around and the topic of Christmas and Santa come up, I will quickly excuse myself and leave the room.