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Swallows Day Not Switched After All, Administrator Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mission San Juan Capistrano officials, taking heat after changing the date for the traditional Swallows Day celebration, said Tuesday that the dispute over the switch was caused by a misunderstanding.

Jerry Miller, mission administrator, said the main holiday feast still will be celebrated March 19, which is St. Joseph’s Day and the day the annual return of the swallows long has been observed at the 219-year-old mission.

He said a March 16 date has been added as “an extended celebration"--but not as a replacement for the traditional March 19 event.

Nearly two weeks ago, Miller stated the celebration would be moved to March 16, but did not mention an extended celebration. When a news story about the date change appeared, many longtime residents of this historic community were upset, believing the mission should stick with tradition.

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“I had no idea there would be this sort of furor over it,” Miller said at a news conference at the mission. “There have been a lot of calls. . . . Most of them I would say were very favorable.”

Donald Tryon, a member of the local historical society who had joined with those who criticized the switch, attended the news conference and said he was “very pleased” the celebration would take place on two days.

“I originally believed it was going to fall only on one day, the 16th,” Tryon said. “Personally, I would like to see the mission go back to the traditional date. But I’m satisfied.”

But not everybody was content.

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Lifelong resident Rita Nieblas, 67, who stopped by the news conference but wasn’t a participant, said: “For years and years we’ve always had the celebration on the 19th, and only one celebration.”

The initial dust-up illustrates the strong sense of community, especially as it applies to the mission founded by Father Junipero Serra.

Richard C. Mendelson, the city’s 85-year-old patriarch, said Tuesday in a telephone interview that the switch prompted him to remove artifacts he had loaned to the mission, including rare photographs from the days when his family came to the city in 1875.

“I brought it all home with me,” Mendelson said. “I told Miller that I didn’t agree with him, and I pulled my stuff out in protest.”

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The idea behind the change was to attract more families by having an event on the weekend. March 16 is on a Saturday. When St. Joseph’s Day fell on a weekend last year, nearly 20,000 people attended the event, compared to the fewer than 5,000 people who have attended when the celebration fell on a weekday, according to officials.

“I got called by a single parent who told me it was about time that somebody thought about her,” Miller said. “She said, ‘I have a 5-year-old daughter and this gives us a chance to see the swallows.’ ”


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