Frederick Moses, 9 years old, has some good and bad news about Santa's visit at Christmas:

The good news is that "you get toys and stuff."

The bad news is that if you stay up to see Santa, "he puts pepper in your eyes."

"It's hard to go to sleep," said Moses, who walked from his home at 6th and Bryant streets NW "near the Wonder Bread bakery" to 7th and O streets NW to the John F. Kennedy playground, by himself.

The thought of pepper in his eyes clearly startled 6-year-old-Michael Richardson, Moses' companion, who was playing on top of a fire engine at the playground.

"Does he do that?" Richardson asked.

Moses nodded yes, but admitted later that he had never seen it happen. He said he always falls asleep.

Moses and several other youngsters at the playground yesterday took time off from playing tag and king of the hill to tell a visitor about the meaning of Christmas.

"We have Christmas because it's fun," said Moses, who remembered past Christmases.

"I get really excited," he said. "Last year, I woke up and ran to the Christmas tree and I said, 'Mommy, Mommy, look what I got -- a record player and some records and a truck."

Richardson, whose shy grin showed two missing front teeth, remembered the smells at home and gift-giving during Christmas.

"We have fried chicken," he said, drawing out the 'fried', "macaroni and cheese and hamburgers.

"I didn't buy any presents because I didn't have any money," he said. "I might have bought my sister Charlayne something last year but I couldn't. I'm not going to buy her anything this year either because she always beats me up." n

Over past the trolleys cars anchored in cement and a few yards from the fire engine where Richardson and Moses played, 9-year-old Mary Ann Armwood from Newton Grove, N.C., sat on a merry-go-round and explained that she only wanted an electric car for Christmas.

"I talked to my parents and I think that's all Santa can afford to bring," she said swallowing the last syllable of her words in a heavy North Carolina drawl.

"Who is Santa? I know who Santa is, it's my mother and father," said 8-year-old Juan Wilson, who lives at 7th and N streets NW.

"When I go to bed, she don't go to bed. I peep behind the wall and I see her put toys underneath the tree. Then, I run back to bed when she's finished, and she comes into my room to see if I'm asleep and I pretend that I am."

No pepper for Wilson.

"I already know some of the things I got," he said proudly as other youngsters playing king of the hill gathered around him. "I got an electric football game, a monopoly game and some other stuff. They try to hide the toys, but I always find them. The electric football game was hidden behind my bed."

Eleven-year-old Karen Jackson, who stood atop an airplane at the playground said her Christmas wish was to make "everybody happy." She said she worries about the hostages in Iran, something her parents talk about often.

Eric Exum, accompanied by his 11-year-old cousin and "best buddy" Derek Barrett, said that even though he knew where his mother hid his toys, he still was excited about Christmas.

"I got a computer football set, a tic tac toe and a battleship game," Exum said nudging his cousin. "Some of the stuff was hidden in my mother's drawer and behind her bed. That's where she hides stuff every year."

The Christmas expert of the playground remained Frederick Moses, who despite his pepper theories said he once actually saw Santa Claus.

"I looked out the window and I saw eight raindeers, and Santa picked up a bag of toys," he said, playing with his rope and staring off somewhere in the distance. "One little elf was with him."

"You didn't see Santa Claus," countered Michael Richardson, his companion.

"I didn't say I saw him at the NORTH POLE," said Moses sarcastically. "I saw him downtown."