Saturday proved to be an extraordinary day for one of Orange County’s most beloved residents. Humanitarian Sir Bruno Serato, who founded a nonprofit...
The history behind the Swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano is historical and religious. The beauty of it all has developed over the years to include many diverse groups that come together on this day to celebrate these small feathered wonders and the feast day of Saint Joseph.
In the 1930’s, it began as a school carnival to celebrate the birds’ return, and has slowly evolved into the celebration it is today, growing from the region’s celebration of early California ‘cowboy’ culture and the Franciscan fraternity’s involvement in the development of the local indigenous people’s formation into the Catholic faith.
From Spain’s crown, to the mission we witness today, we become more aware of the many events that have shaped our California mission system. With wars and religious evangelization in our state’s past, we have come to realize how our state was part of a bigger plan to increase the land holdings of the Spanish crown.
Despite a few challenging events, there is also the benevolent message of the contribution from the Franciscan Order in the mission system. To educate the local Indian tribes in the Spanish ways, the Franciscan friars began to teach the Catholic faith and establish a permanent presence in their lives.
The history of how Swallows Day came to be rests in the telling of how a Franciscan Friar, Father O’Sullivan, watched a shopkeeper knocking the bird’s mud nests down from the eaves in front of his shop. Horrified, Father O’Sullivan is reputed to have told the displaced birds to find shelter at the old mission. As time passed, he observed that they flew away in the autumn and their return coincided with Saint Joseph’s Day, which is on March 19th.
From this kind gesture, Swallows Day has taken on the meaning of a sort of return to spring. With the mention of Franciscan friar O’Sullivan, you begin to understand how the Italian community finds interest in this event, as Saint Francis of Assisi is a beloved Italian saint and his order, the Franciscans, have come to represent a loving and peaceful group of humble individuals. Their pious and continuous work within the mission system is largely responsible for the existence of the missions today. But most special is how Mission San Juan Capistrano has had this ongoing affection for these little birds and how they usher in the spring season each year by returning to build their mud nests under the eaves of the mission.
In the past, interest in this event has waned, but now more people are coming out to once again celebrate the birds’ return to Mission San Juan Capistrano. 2015 will mark the 57th year of this event. It is celebrated by a diverse group of people, but the Mexican and Italian communities are proudly represented as their contributions have deep rooted history in the California mission system.
The Italian Society group marches in the parade and proudly waves the twenty flags from the twenty-eight regions of Italy, representing the many Italian-Americans who live here and still revere and celebrate the feast day of Saint Joseph, along with the coming of spring.
A variety of music can expect to be heard wafting through the air and the aromas of a variety of foods can quell the appetite of the many parade goers expected to attend. The coming together of different peoples is so representative of the current make-up of California’s population and we are fortunate that we can experience so much of that diversity right here in our backyard.
It culminates with a day of feasting and celebrating in which the entire community is encouraged to participate. The day can be spent sampling many food offerings and adult beverage, not to mention family friendly activities and of course shopping. The street fair atmosphere is sure to be a people pleaser and many colorful images can only add to the rich tapestry of the days’ events. The cowboy culture will be represented in grand fashion with horse drawn wagons and horsemanship groups to the delight of many.
Marching bands, dance groups, many other display groups, and children dressed in brightly colored costumes, representing the bird of the day, will be a hit for sure. And in case you were wondering, this event has become one of the largest non-motorized parade events in the country. So be sure to come and spend some time bird watching at Mission San Juan Capistrano! See you there!
The parade is on March 21st this year and is set to begin at 11:00 A.M. Admission is free to the parade. Admission to the mission is $9 for adults, seniors (60+) $8, Children (4-11) $6, children under 3 are free. For more detailed information please visit the website at swallosparade.com