Swallows Day at Mission San Juan Capistrano

A sweet tradition gets its traditional due, complete with a parade.

SOARING IN SPIRIT: It's absolutely true that you can visit Mission San Juan Capistrano and never see a swallow, the bird most associated with the historic Orange County burg. The swallow, however, goes beyond just "a bird tied to the town," though; it is the famous symbol of Capistrano and its 19th-century mission, appearing on postcards, tees, brochures, and other items aplenty. Which means a "bird-less streak" must be addressed by a bit of ingenuity. Officials have been pondering and trying, from broadcasting swallows calls to attract the avian superstars to the recent plan which involves a "15-foot-tall, movable arch with artificial nests built in in hopes of reminding them it's a good place to settle." It's important to San Juan Capistrano, to see the swallows return, as the tradition of swallows returning is very much tied to St. Joseph's Day, March 19, and the identity and character of the town.

THE SHOW GOES ON: But whether or not there are birds swooping above the other symbol of the town -- the mission's bells -- has never deterred San Juan Capistrano from celebrating its March holiday with a series of festivities capped by a sweet, hometown-small parade, where, yes, some of the kids sometimes dress as swallows, complete with large, cloth wings. So if you don't see any birds above just look on the streets.

PARADE AND FESTIVAL: The mission bells will ring out for the 57th annual Swallows Day Parade on Saturday, March 21. That's at 11 a.m., which is also the start time for the parade, a procession that's billed as "the largest non-motorized parade in the country." Mariachi music follows the parade, while the spirit of conviviality shall reign in the tucked-tight town center, with the mission at the center of the doings. So, swallows, what think you of this artificial nest? City officials hope you take a shine, as do people enamored by one of Orange County's, and truly California's, best-known legends.

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