The annual Swallows Day celebration and parade took place on Saturday, March 25, after several years of COVID-19 restrictions and an equine disease that minimized the festivities. Enthusiastic spectators came out to watch the parade and enjoy the traditional San Juan Capistrano events.
JSERRA CATHOLIC SCHOOL CHEERLEADERS MARCH IN THE SWALLOWS DAY PARADE ON MARCH 25 IN MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO. PHOTO BY IAN TRAN/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“The theme for this year’s parade is Back in the Saddle Again,” said Jim Taylor, a volunteer with the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association which organized the event.
That’s because last year horses could not participate in the parade.
THE MISSION ENTRY FEATURED TWO HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGES WITH FLORAL DECOR COURTESY OF THE SPENUZZA VELASTEGUI FAMILY FOUNDATION. PHOTO BY IAN TRAN/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“In 2022 there was an equine virus and so horses were in quarantine,” explained Taylor. “So, we had a motorized parade instead.
Many spectators got a kick out of seeing the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile that rode in that parade, but the beautiful horses were back on display this year.
According to Taylor, Saturday’s parade — the 63rd — featured about 230 horses.
This delighted parade participant Connie Spenuzza, a board member of the Mission Preservation Foundation.
“Having enjoyed owning and riding my trail horses for many years, I’m so happy to have the equine virus and the COVID restrictions behind us,” she said. “The equestrian participants are the heart and soul of the Swallows Day Parade. I love to watch the young parade spectators applaud the riders and their horses.”
As an author of history and historical fiction, Spenuzza said she appreciated that the parade highlights the Mission San Juan Capistrano as the birthplace of Orange County, and it also pays tribute to San Juan Capistrano’s equestrian traditions.
Marching bands traveled from all over Southern California to add their energetic music to the festivities.
“They’re from Downey, Pasadena, Whittier, Northridge and Thermal, California,” explained Taylor.
This was the first time that the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Irwin was part of the parade, he added.
The Temecula Cowgirl Color Guard were there, as well as the Marine Mounted Color Guard from Barstow.
A big highlight each year is the children of Mission Basilica School who’ve participated in the Swallows Day parade since its inception in the 1930s, said Alycia Beresford, M.Ed., principal of the Mission Basilica School in San Juan Capistrano. And the children take their roles in the parade seriously.
“We prepare for a St. Joseph’s Day performance and the parade for approximately six weeks,” said Beresford. Mission Basilica School had three entries in the parade this year. Each year, cheerleaders perform while the students walk in spirit wear with school faculty and staff. Eight students are selected as members of the royal court representing Spanish royalty during the founding years of the Mission; they ride in a carriage. The younger kids are typically involved, too.
“First grade students dress as swallows and walk with a ‘swallows’ nest’ and are accompanied by our kindergarten ‘munks,’” said Beresford.
Involving children in the parade is a long-held tradition.
“In 1953, the Royal Court resembling the reigning monarchs of Spain during the founding years of the Mission were first presented,” explained Beresford. “The royal court members are students in the eighth grade who are selected based on their leadership, kindness to others, involvement in the school and academic excellence.”
As the parade date approached, kids got more and more excited.
“They look forward to it every year,” said Beresford.
SWALLOWS DAY ORIGIN
Swallows Day originated with the springtime arrival of migrating cliff swallows at the Mission San Juan Capistrano in the early 1920s. A priest named Fr. John O’Sullivan supposedly told the swallows they were welcome at Mission San Juan Capistrano and would be protected there. Each year when the swallows returned during their migration route, local residents rejoiced.
Now, about 100 years later, not many swallows arrive (they’re able to find protection elsewhere), but the celebration continues, as Saturday’s crowds — who arrived on foot, by car and by train —demonstrated.
Volunteers put in many hours of work to make sure that the parade ran smoothly. Taylor estimated that planning began last November. Costs for rentals and materials have risen steadily over the years and are funded by sponsorships, donors, fundraisers and merchandise sales.
The Mission entry featured two beautiful horse-drawn carriages with floral decor “courtesy of the very generous Spenuzza Velastegui Family Foundation,” said Mechelle Lawrence Adams, the executive director of Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Spenuzza has participated in every parade since 1996, except for the last few years. This year she rode with her husband and youngest son on one of the Mission entry horse-drawn carriages.
“The public is amazing and so supportive,” she said. “They cheer, and wave and it feels very small town and homey. I also love going through the very northern most portion where many of our Spanish speaking residents live. They are so respectful, and the kids are so happy when we wave to them. It is a great day!”
To learn more, visit https://journeynorth.org/tm/swallow/OnAMission.html
Special congratulations to our friends who participated in the Swallows Day Parade
Mission San Juan Capistrano’s entry
Mission Basilica Royal Court
Mission Basilica School Swallows Nest
Mission Basilica School Walkers and Cheerleaders
JSerra Catholic High School
Legion of Mary