Alan Bresloff, who, though he’s Jewish, has been a volunteer Santa Claus for about 50 years — fielding gift requests from kids, handing out presents, showing up at special events and soup kitchens on and around Christmas.
Bresloff, 75, was raised on the West Side, in Austin. “Then, we moved up north to Evanston,” then back to Chicago, then to Northbrook, where he finished high school. Now lives in Glenview.
“I became an actor. For a while, I was trying to be that star . . . Never really worked.
“I went to school at the Goodman Theatre, worked at music theater in Highland Park . . . I worked at Shady Lane,” near Marengo, “did a little bit of stuff in Evergreen Park when there was a Drury Lane there,” and a variety of other shows.
“Then, I decided to have a family and go on with life,” and moved to Buffalo Grove.
Decades ago, when he was a member of Temple Chai, a Jewish congregation in Long Grove, the men’s club there was “looking for something to do” in terms of volunteering “that would make sense during Christmas” because so many Christians in the area “were forced to work that day and be away from their families.”
Some members of the synagogue decided they would fill in so those workers could have Christmas day off. Some also collected food donations to distribute to those in need.
A hospital in Lake County was one of the spots for a food dropoff. Someone there told Bresloff they needed someone to be Santa Claus for the kids in the hospital.
“We’ve got gifts — but no Santa,” the hospital employee said.
Bresloff had once played Santa at his old job at a phone company: “I said, ‘OK, I’ll be there.
“I had such a good time, I decided I’m going to do this all the time. I’m going to find a way.”
Now, he gets in his Santa suit for a yearly Christmas concert in the northwest suburbs, where “I run up and down the aisle . . . give every kid a candy cane, I take pictures.”
He also dresses up for a Christmas soup kitchen at a South Side church, greeting families and handing out donated presents.
And he plays Santa for special events and is a member of “Santa on Call,” which assigns Bresloff and other unpaid Santas as last-minute fill-ins when the regular one isn’t feeling well: “If you’re sick, they really don’t want you to put yourself in front of little kids.
“I keep my stuff in my car” in case “someone calls.”
Without his costume, he doesn’t exactly look like Santa.
“I’m probably one of the few Santa Clauses without his own beard.” And this year he had to get some extra padding for his suit because “I lost some weight.”
“I feel like I’m giving back. I don’t have money to buy all the things I’d like to do, to donate. But if I can give of myself and make people happy . . .”
His family used to have a grab bag with $20 gifts at Hanukkah, but now they pool that money and, through a program in Berwyn, pick a needy family to buy Christmas gifts for.
Bresloff helps deliver them — in costume.
Does anyone ever joke about a Jewish guy helping out with a Christian holiday?
“I don’t know if anybody’s ever questioned it.
“My rabbi thinks it’s wonderful that I do it.”
When he leaves the South Side church on Christmas, he and his wife go out for Chinese food and catch a movie — “It’s become a tradition.”
Being Santa isn’t all fun and games.
“I’ve actually had kids ask for their daddy back, or to make their house come back, their house burned down . . . I actually had a kid say to me he wanted his little brother . . . It turned out his parents got divorced, and they each got custody of one of the kids . . . It’s hard.”
“Sometimes, they can’t tell their parents what’s in their hearts — but they tell Santa.”
And sometimes Santa can help with the tough cases.
“The night before we were supposed to go” visit a family in Berwyn with gifts one year, the mother got arrested, and the family was being evicted.
“So there’s a grandmother, furniture on the street and three boys, and I think the oldest might have been 13.”
Bresloff and his family ended up finding a place for them to live and helping them move.
“That’s what part of what our Jewish tradition is: to do positive, to do good, the ‘mitzvah.’”
He works in sales for a pest-control company and runs a web site with theater and restaurant reviews.
“I’m never going to retire.”
Is married to his third wife: “Third time’s a charm!”
They each have two kids and between them have eight grandchildren.
Being Santa, “it’s magic . . . I could see the faces of the little ones waiting in line to talk to me or have their picture taken. And I know some kids are afraid of this big fat guy, but I always try to tell” the adult organizers, “Don’t push the kids, don’t push them, let them make their way toward me.”
Every year, “I know I’ve done something good . . . I’ve given some happiness and peace . . . there’s nothing better.”
Face to Faith appears Sundays in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Listen to previous “Face to Faith” podcasts:
- U. of C. divinity dean Laurie Zoloth: Can religion help end ‘cycle of vengeance?’ Dec. 10, 2017
- Radio personality Kevin Matthews: Rosary a ‘weapon’ for hopelessness, Dec. 3, 2017
- Oak Park mom Camela Daley honors future saint over childbirth ‘miracle,’ Nov. 26, 2017
- Dr. Martha Twaddle cares for the dying, but, ‘I do see miracles,’ Nov. 19, 2017
- Grammy-winning Chicago gospel singer Smokie Norful ‘providing hope through song,’ Nov. 12, 2017
- Chicago immigrant Atoor Merkail: Assyrians suffered ‘so much,’ but we still have hope,’ Nov. 5, 2017
- Decade after dust-up, nun Donna Quinn firm on abortion: ‘Choice is the woman’s,’ Oct. 29, 2017
- Chicago Satanist G. Edwin Taylor: There’s no devil, humans ‘are our own God,’ Oct. 22, 2017
- WXRT DJ Lin Brehmer: Finds inspiration ‘in the beauties of the world,’ Oct. 15, 2017
- Prominent Presbyterian pastor Shannon Johnson Kershner: ‘God’s not a Christian . . . we are,’ Oct. 8, 2017
- Former pro star Andrea Jaeger’s faith ‘way better than my tennis,’ Oct. 1, 2017
- Miranda Rae Mayo of ‘Chicago Fire‘: ‘My thoughts create my reality,’ Sept. 24, 2017
- Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho: ‘I want to be a light to my teammates,’ Sept. 17, 2017
- Top Lutheran bishop Elizabeth Eaton: If hell exists, ‘I think it’s empty,’ Sept. 10, 2017
- Author Scott Turow: Feels ‘a deep faith’ in ‘the power of good,’ Sept. 3, 2017
- Cardinal Blase Cupich: Some of ‘greatest Christians I know’ have no ‘faith system,’ Aug. 27, 2017
- Gov hopeful Daniel Biss: Faith that fuels divisiveness is ‘dead wrong,’ Aug. 20, 2017
- Lutheran scholar Martin Marty on faith, Luther, the state of religion: Aug. 13, 2017
- Chicago Sky’s Amber Stocks: Message matters more than the denomination, Aug. 6, 2017
- ‘Hood’ and ‘holy’ minister Marilyn Pagan-Banks: Not alone ‘even when you make bad choices,’ July 30, 2017
- Author Patrick T. Reardon: ‘Embrace the pain of life as well as joys,’ July 23, 2017
- Paylocity founder Steve Sarowitz: Baha’i ‘made sense to me right away,’ July 16, 2017
- Candidate Chris Kennedy: ‘I’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work,’ July 9, 2017
- Jail warden Nneka Jones Tapia: ‘I think God is all around us,’ July 2, 2017
- Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera: ‘Let it be God’s will if we lose or win,’ June 25, 2017
- The Mekons’ Sally Timms: ‘Not the kind of atheist who’s down on religion,’ June 18, 2017
- J.B. Pritzker: At times, ‘your faith has to overcome maybe logic,’ June 11, 2017
- Daoud Casewit, American Islamic College president: ‘We’re as American as we are Islamic,’ June 4, 2017
- Public Defender Amy Campanelli: My clients ‘are not evil people,’ May 28, 2017
- James Lovell: ‘We go to heaven when we’re born,’ May 21, 2017
- Michael Magnafichi, one-time ‘rising star’ in Chicago mob: ‘I do say prayers,’ May 14, 2017
- Ald. Ameya Pawar: ‘There’s always the opportunity for redemption,’ May 7, 2017
- Sir the Baptist: ‘I want to be the first hip-hop chaplain,’ April 30, 2017
- Singer Shemekia Copeland: ‘Hell, yeah’ God loves the blues, April 23, 2017