Saint Joseph’s Day and The Return of the Swallows Celebration – A Virtual Event

Join us virtually for the world-renowned tradition celebrating the annual return of the famous swallows at the historic Mission. We’re sorry we are not able to put together an in-person event and gather due to the ongoing pandemic. The Swallows Day Parade has also been cancelled.

We hope that by bringing you St. Joseph’s Day and Return of the Swallow celebration digitally, you are able to celebrate the swallows returning to Capistrano from wherever you are. We are looking forward to celebrating this continued tradition in person with you in the near future.

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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 the 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.


Getting to San Juan Capistrano

Take the train to San Juan Capistrano for the Return of the Swallows Celebrations to avoid traffic and parking. The Metrolink and Amtrak both stop in downtown San Juan Capistrano. Click the links to plan your trip.


Discover Downtown San Juan Capistrano

Plan your whole visit to historic San Juan Capistrano for dining, shopping and exploring before and after the festivities by checking out all our recommendation destinations!


Download 2020 Downtown Map & Guide


Underwriting and sponsorships available for all events, for more information please contact the Events Department at (949) 234-1317.


Swallows Day Parade and Fiesta de Las Golondrinas 2020

Announcement from the City of San Juan Capistrano, click here.

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

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 annual Swallows Day Parade begins at 11:00 AM. The Parade takes place in downtown San Juan Capistrano on the streets surrounding the historic Mission.