Pride in Italian Heritage Drives 27 Years of Volunteering at Holiday Folk Fair International

Nov. 7, 2012

Ask 81-year-old Anna Pitzo why she has volunteered her time at the Holiday Folk Fair International for the past 27 years and you will get an answer that no doubt drives the hundreds of others who share their time and talents at the three-day event. “My heritage means a lot to me,” Pitzo said. “I’m a first generation Italian American. The ties to Italy are what I bring to my children and grandchildren. I help keep the culture alive.”

The annual Holiday Folk Fair International will be held Fri., Nov. 16 – Sun., Nov. 18, at the Wisconsin Exposition Center at State Fair Park in West Allis.

“It is a very family oriented event,” Pitzo said. It is an opportunity for Fair-goers to learn the ways in which music, food, dance, and art explains a culture’s history and traditions. “I like that at Folk Fair, people give honor and respect to their heritage. We are what we are because of from where we came,” she said.

Produced by the International Institute of Wisconsin, Holiday Folk Fair International’s theme this year is “Celebrate the Culture of the Story.”

For Friday’s education day when students from many area schools attend the event, Pitzo will recount the legend of La Befana, a gift-giver similar to Santa Claus who rides a broom. Pitzo, a former school teacher in Whitefish Bay who now resides in Pewaukee, is quite adept at story telling. She does it every year at the Italian Community Center for the children’s Christmas party.

A traditional cook who loves making things from scratch, she will also demonstrate for the children the art of making pizzelles in three flavorings. Pizelles originated in the Abruzzo region of Italy where Pitzo’s family lived before her parents immigrated to America in the 1920s.

Pitzo also is the long-time chairman of the cultural booth, where in keeping with the theme, presenters will tell stories related to Christmas in Italy and gift giving practices. Also on display will be decorations honoring the birth of Christ. Students from the Italian Immersion School will help. “I am here when everyone sets up their culture booths and everyone is very respectful of each other’s ethnicity. That’s a very important part of Holiday Folk Fair,” she said.

Food offerings include the always popular pizza, along with arancini (rice balls), meat balls, pasta, tiramisu, pizzelle, and cannolis. New this year is a desert treat from Joe Vella, owner of Sciortino’s Bakery. “The cookie is call Pizza Sweetza and is topped with red fondant, shaved white chocolate, and chocolate chips,” said Gina Jorgensen, chairman of the ICC Culture Committee and president of Tradizione Vivente, the Italian Dance Group of Milwaukee.

Jorgensen also said the dance group, which numbers 35 adults, will be performing dances reflecting the Holiday Folk Fair theme of “Celebrate the Culture of the Story.” At the Music Pavilion, the adult group will be performing “L’accio d’Amore,” which is a ribbon dance traditionally performed at weddings. Legend has it that the successful winding and unwinding of the ribbons will provide the couple with a long and happy marriage. At the All Nation’s Theater, the group will perform “San Rocco,” which celebrates San Rocco, a French noble who took a vow of poverty and journeyed to Italy where he encountered an area afflicted with plague. He stayed to minister to the sick and bestowed some miraculous cures before he died. The dance is able to be performed, courtesy of the Ru Maccature group from Carpinone, Molise, Italy, which gave Tradizione Vivente permission to use the choreography and music.

The 50-member children’s group, I Bei Bambini, will perform Il Cogdiglione on Sun., Nov. 18 during the Youth Program.

Produced by the International Institute of Wisconsin, Holiday Folk Fair International celebrates the cultural heritage of the people living in southeastern Wisconsin. This year’s theme, “Celebrate the Culture of the Story,” will allow Fair-goers the opportunity to learn the ways in which music, food, dance, and art explain a culture’s history and traditions.

Special attractions at this year’s event include the “One World, One People” photo exhibit, the Sister Cities International Young Artists and Authors Showcase, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites photo exhibit, an Old World Wisconsin display area, the Wisconsin Woodturners, and a bonsai exhibit.

The three-day event features the All Nations Theater with traditional music and dance, the World Café offering traditional dishes, the International Stage where young people perform their ethnic dances, the Music Pavilion with a variety of musical styles, Heritage Lane with unique traditions and customs through interactive exhibits, the International Bazaar where cultural artifacts create a unique shopping experience, and the Callen Construction Cooking Demonstration Stage featuring local chefs preparing traditional cuisine.

Holiday Folk Fair International will also host a United States Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony Sat., Nov. 17, at 10:30 a.m. and an “Around the World” 5K Run/Walk Sun., Nov. 18 at 9:00 a.m.

Hours on Fri., Nov. 16 are 2 p.m. – 10 p.m.; 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 17; and 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Sun., Nov. 18. Advance tickets will be sold for $10 each, with family four-packs for $36, and can be purchased on-line at

Admission at the gate will be $12 for adults; $8 for children ages 6 to 12; children under the age of five will be admitted at no charge. Those 62 and over will be admitted for $10, and all military personnel with a military ID card will be admitted free.

For more information on the 2012 Holiday Folk Fair International, visit or call the International Institute of Wisconsin at 414-225-6220.

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