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St. Joseph's Day

Students performing traditional dances on St. Joseph’s Day
Photo courtesy

Lisa Renee Photography

St. Joseph's Day

Renee Bondi performs
“When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”
Photo courtesy
Lisa Renee Photography

St. Joseph’s Day and the Return of the Swallows Celebration is a world-renowned tradition celebrating the annual return of the famous swallows to Capistrano. This tradition was started by Father O’Sullivan in the 1920’s at Mission San Juan Capistrano, historic California landmark and home of the swallows, and is carried each year on March 19th.

Join us for this historic celebration, full of tradition, community, and festivity, on Thursday, March 19th, 2015, marking the return of our famous swallows to Capistrano and the coming of spring - a time of renewal and rebirth.


St. Joseph's Day will be held on Thursday, March 19, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

This annual celebration includes:

  • Ringing of the historic bells
  • Live mariachi music
  • Community presentations
  • Special Guest Lecture On Cliff Swallows
  • Mission Basilica School performances
  • San Juan Elementary performances
  • Flamenco dance performances
  • History of St. Joseph's Day and Swallows Legend

Download the event program and schedule of events (Coming in February 2015)

More to see and do on St. Joseph's Day you won't want to miss:

  • Food vendors serving Mexican food, burgers, and more.
  • Native American Basketweavers
  • Activities for kids including Adobe Brick making and Panning for gold
  • Swallows Vocalization Experiment (Read More)

Learn more about the origination of this annual celebration!


Cost of General Admission to this Signature Event is:
$10 for Adults, $9 for Seniors (60+) and $6 for Children (Ages 4-11)
FREE for Mission Preservation Society Members and Current Volunteers with I.D., and Children 3 and under. Become a Member today to attend St. Joseph's Day for free!

Purchase Tickets Now!


Special Lecture on the Cliff Swallows
By Dr. Charles R. Brown,
Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Tulsa
Thursday, March 19th
2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Soldiers Barracks Gallery
Please RSVP for lecture by calling (949) 234-1321.
$5 Suggested Donation to help make this program possible.

Dr. Charles Brown
Renowned Cliff Swallows Expert

Dr. Charles R. Brown,
Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Tulsa
, has studied more than 200,000 cliff swallows over the last 28 years.

Enjoy these books by Charles R. Brown:
Swallows Summer

This book is about a passion for birds, but it is also about the personal challenges of scientific research. Click here to purchase.

Coloniality in the Cliff Swallows
Brown investigates twenty-six social and ecological costs and benefits of coloniality, many never before addressed in a systematic way for any species. Click here to purchase.


History of St. Joseph's Day and the Swallows Legend


The swallows are said to migrate annually to Goya, Argentina in October, and return to their spring and summer home in San Juan Capistrano each March. The Swallows celebration began centuries ago when Mission padres observed that the birds return roughly coincided with St. Joseph's Day on the church calendar, March 19. The celebration has achieved international prominence since then.

In his book, Capistrano Nights, Father St. John O'Sullivan, Pastor of Mission San Juan Capistrano 1910-33, relates how the swallows first came to call the Mission home. One day, while walking through town, Fr. O'Sullivan saw a shopkeeper, broomstick in hand, knocking down the conically shaped mud swallow nests that were under the eaves of his shop. The birds were darting back and forth through the air squealing over the destruction of their homes.

"What in the world are you doing?" Fr. O'Sullivan asked.

"Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!" the shopkeeper responded.

"But where can they go?"

"I don't know and I don't care," he replied, slashing away with his pole. "But they've no business here, destroying my property"

Fr. O'Sullivan then said, "Come on swallows, I'll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There's room enough there for all."

The very next morning, the padre discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside the newly restored sacristy of Father Serra's Church. Another favorite spot was the ruins of the Great Stone Church, which was once lined with hundreds of swallows' nests.

Fr. O'Sullivan noticed that the small birds migrated south in the autumn and returned to the Mission in spring on St. Joseph's Day, March 19th. Upon their arrival, the swallows immediately went to work patching up their old nests, building new ones, and disputing possession of others with 'vagrant sparrow families' as they may have taken up illegal quarter there during the swallows' absence.

With a great flutter of wings, the swallows would peck at the soil, fly with a bit of it from the old Mission lagoon to the northeast of the buildings. Using the water they made a paste of the earth in their beaks, amid more fluttering of wings at the pond's edge. They then flew to the eaves of the Mission to deliver their loads of mud plaster for the walls of their inverted houses, and, as O'Sullivan observed, "receive the noisy congratulations of their mates".

One of Fr. O' Sullivan's companions at the Mission, José de Gracia Cruz, known as Acú, told Fr. O'Sullivan many stories and legends of the Mission. Acú, a descendent of the Juaneño band of Mission Indians, was the Mission's bell ringer until his death in 1924, and spent long hours under the Mission's famed pepper tree making various items from leather.

One of Acú's most colorful tales was that of the swallows (or las golondrinas as he called them). Acú believed that the swallows flew over the Atlantic Ocean to Jerusalem each winter. In their beaks they carried little twigs, on which they could rest on water when tired.



Mission Swallow Policy Statement:
Our signature swallow consists of an illustrative fork tail swallow, in-flight. This type of swallow art is unique to the Mission San Juan Capistrano brand because of its popularity in the 1930s and usage in vintage and historic memorabilia. The American public, and even the world at large has come to associate the Mission San Juan Capistrano landmark as the home of these famed birds. When the Mission portrays the literal swallows, we use the photographic, authentic and real life image. In graphic form, we use the romantic version, fork tailed, in-flight swallow.


Swallows Day Parade and Fiesta de Las Golondrinas

The traditions of celebrating the return of the famous swallows, originally started at Mission San Juan Capistrano by Father O’Sullivan in the 1920s, have grown into a community-wide season of festivities in San Juan Capistrano. The Fiesta de las Golondrinas is a series of events, hosted by the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association, celebrating the return of the swallow to Capistrano. This includes the highly-anticipated Annual Swallows Day Parade, the largest non-motorized parade in the country.

The 57th Annual Swallows Day Parade will be held Saturday, March 21st, 2015 beginning at 11:00 AM. The Parade takes place in downtown San Juan Capistrano on the streets surrounding the historic Mission.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is proud to partner with the Fiesta Association in keeping these traditions alive each year and celebrating the historic heritage of San Juan Capistrano. Mark your calendar and don’t miss these historic events! Join us for St. Joseph’s Day at Mission San Juan Capistrano on Thursday, March 19th and return on Saturday, March 21st for the Swallows Day Parade.

For more information on the Swallows Day Parade and all the Fiesta de las Golondrinas events visit www.swallowsparade.com 

St. Joseph's Day
St. Joseph's Day
St. Joseph's Day
St. Joseph's Day





Mission San Juan Capistrano plans fun, day and night for the whole family! For event dates and times, visit our calendar.

Underwriting and sponsorships available for all events, for more information please contact Christine Robinson at (949) 234-1321.

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