By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 04, 2018 at 5:01 PM

Long after St. Nick has come and gone, and while Santa is already back at the North Pole warming in front of the fire, La Befana continues her journey to the homes of kids throughout Italy and across the world whose families have roots in the boot.

A major figure in Italian folklore, La Befana brings gifts to children on the night of Jan. 5, the eve of Epiphany. Befana is hedging her bets.

The story goes that La Befana is a poor woman with a passion for baking – if you trust Tomie de Paola’s version of the story, told in "The Legend of Old Befana" – and an obsessive compulsive sweeping disorder.

When the three kings pass by her house on their search for the newborn baby Jesus, and ask for directions when they don’t find him, Befana is too focused on her baking and her sweeping to pay them any mind.

But as the procession wends its way off over the horizon, she sees a bright star in the sky and begins to wonder if she shouldn’t have been so hasty in her dismissal. So, she packs up some goodies and hops onto her broom and flies off into the night to join the search for the baby Jesus, but not before a final bout of uncontrollable sweeping fatally delays her departure.

Because she doesn’t know where to find him, she brings candy and presents to children everywhere – as I say, hedging her bets.

In Milwaukee, Befana is a tradition for local Italian-Americans, many of whom can remember meeting her (hat tip to Anna Pitzo!) at the annual Christmas party at the Italian Community Center. Others, as children wake up to find gifts from her.

In our house, already overloaded with candy and sweets after the holidays, Befana has always brought books, and sometimes a little toy and perhaps a little sweet. But we’ve put the focus on books.

Before bed on Jan. 5, we read de Paola’s "The Legend of Old Befana," even though the kids have already known the story by heart for years, and then in the morning, they find more words.

Because it’s always a good time to maintain cultural traditions and any occasion, at least for me, is an occasion to give books.

Buona Epifania!

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.