Celebrating an apparent return to normalcy following the COVID-19 pandemic and an equine virus outbreak that impacted a previous year’s festivities, the Fiesta Association recently announced next year’s parade theme: Saddle Up San Juan.
The Association, which organizes San Juan Capistrano’s annual Swallows Day Parade & Mercado Street Faire, held a contest to determine next year’s theme, with the winner receiving a $50 gift card to Trevor’s at the Tracks.
“We had some pretty wild (suggestions) and some pretty creative ones,” Fiesta Association President Jim Taylor said. “When there’s 50 bucks at Trevor’s on the line, you get a lot of creativity and we probably had 60 suggestions.”
The theme Saddle Up San Juan was pitched by this year’s Ms. Fiesta Jennifer Pointer and Señor San Juan Tony Pointer.
“In 2022, we lost the horses because of the virus, and so 2023’s parade theme—which was also Tony Pointer’s—‘Back in the Saddle Again,’ we were back and we did have a little bit of a horse issue, we were looking a little bit nervous,” Taylor recalled. “We figured we’re back to normal in 2024, Saddle up, San Juan.”
The 2024 Swallows Day Parade Marshal will be longtime San Juan Capistrano resident Matt Gaffney.
“He’s been to every single parade except for 1972, when he was in the Mediterranean being inducted into the Royal Order of Shellbacks when he crossed the equator,” Taylor said. “He was there, that’s why he couldn’t make it to the parade.”
“He was a banner carrier in the ’62 or ’63 parade,” Taylor continued. “He was also city commissioner and he was a good choice for grand marshal. We wanted somebody local, somebody who had been in the city for basically all their life.”
Taylor added that the Pointers were chosen for the roles of Ms. Fiesta and Señor San Juan because they were longtime residents.
“Our senior dignitaries, our Ms. Fiesta and Señor San Juan … Jennifer is on our board as our treasurer and Tony is also our safety consultant, making sure the parade is safe, that kind of stuff,” Taylor said.
“They’ll show up at all of the events, they judge in some of the events and they represent the Fiesta Association,” Taylor continued.
This year’s junior dignitaries, Natalie Correa Morales as Miss Fiesta and Jr. Senor San Juan Benjamin Brooks, were selected among local Boys & Girls Club members.
“We went to the Boys & Girls Club and asked them if they could find two fifth graders, around that age, that were philanthropic, good character, good students and represented all that is good in our community and they picked these two kids,” Taylor said.
“I’m sure it was a tough choice,” Taylor continued. “There’s a lot of good kids over at the Boys & Girls Club but these two were standouts.”
New this year, the Fiesta Association has chosen a teen ambassador, San Clemente High School Student Savannah Erca.
“We’d like to try and encourage more teens to volunteer,” Taylor said. “We do have some, we get some kids through the national charity league, and we get some kids from the high schools, but we’d like to get more involvement by the teenagers and of course their parents.”
Taylor added that Erca has been involved with the parade for years.
“I’ve seen Savannah over the past couple of years running up and down and doing errands, collecting banners,” Taylor said. “She’s been very active and we really wanted to find a way to get her involved in a more official capacity.”
After last year’s festivities drew in a crowd of about 50,000 to 60,000 people, Taylor said the upcoming 64th annual Swallows Day Parade on March 23 would be bigger and better than ever.
“It’s going to be a great parade,” Taylor said.