I have two small grandsons. They asked me why Santa Claus begs for money in front of the shopping mall. I was shocked by the question and didn't know what to tell them. So I said it was to get toys for all the other boys and girls.

My grandsons also asked me if Santa goes to bingo. I gave them the same answer. My daughter (their mom) was also surprised by their questions. I'm a bingo enthusiast, so I guess that's why they asked. Did I answer properly? what would you have said?

- Grandma Gloria in Ohio

DEAR GRANDMA GLORIA: You handled the questions masterfully. Had I been asked, my response would have differed only slightly. I might have said Santa was asking for donations so he could buy toys for the little boys and girls whose families couldn't afford them this Christmas - and then handed Santa something from me and the grandkids.

DEAR ABBY: Please help California's public hospitals and firefighters by spreading a winter safety message that can help your readers prevent serious injury, disfigurement and death. Every winter we see house fires and burns caused by candles, fireplaces and space heaters, which are often used to heat or light homes during the cold, dark days of winter.

Children are at particular risk. Our hospitals' burn centers say that at least one-third of their patients are under the age of 4. We all know children are curious and will touch just about anything that catches their eye, but very young children don't have the reflexes to remove their hand quickly when they touch something hot. That's why we urge parents of young children to be especially vigilant throughout the winter months.

Christmas trees also become increasingly hazardous after the holidays, when people wait too long to dispose of trees that have dried out and become more flammable.

-- Melissa Stafford Jones, California

Association of Public Hospitals,

and Kevin Nida, California

State Firefighters' Association

DEAR MELISSA AND KEVIN: I'm pleased to help remind my readers about the danger of burns in winter, and your warning that the longer Christmas trees are kept, the more easily they ignite.

After reading your letter I spoke with Capt. Steve Ruda, public information officer for the Los Angeles Fire Department, who pointed out that putting up a Christmas tree early increases the chances of a fire hazard. (Trees that are sold "freshly cut" are actually cut down in October.) He suggests that a good time to consider taking the tree down is when you touch it and the needles fall off easily.

Readers, search online for more safety tips, in both English and Spanish, at or They're offered as public service messages from both of the above associations.

DEAR ABBY: Our mother embarrasses the heck out of us in restaurants. She makes lavish requests and is constantly complaining. How do we tell her she's embarrassing us?

- We Got a Lemon

DEAR GOT A LEMON: How about saying it in plain English when you're in private? And if she persists, don't take her to restaurants you visit often.

Good advice for everyone - teens to seniors - is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby - Anger Booklet, Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or at Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.