The Greek Myth Behind Winter’s ‘Halcyon Days’

Halcyon Days

The expression “halcyon days” refers to a period of time, right in the middle of winter, normally at the end of January and usually lasting about 10 days, when our weather becomes mild and days full of light.

This phenomenon was named after the Halcyon, the kingfisher that broods upon its eggs on sea rocks. Unlike other migratory birds, this species does not leave in fall but early in spring, just like these bright days which can also be enjoyed even in the depth of winter.

Meteorologically, the phenomenon is explained by the fact barometric pressures between southern and northern Europe equalize during this period, resulting in this pleasant weather.

Greek mythology tells us that Halcyon was the daughter of Aeolus, the god of the winds. Halcyon and her husband Ceyx lived happily together, seeing themselves as a couple similar to Hera and Zeus, with their same power and skills.

For this reason, Zeus, in full anger, turned Ceyx into a vulture while Halcyon spent her days looking for her husband in the seas.

Illustration of Halcyon from “A book of myths” (1915) by Helen Stratton. (Courtesy: Newsela).

After some time, the Olympian gods felt pity and decided to turn her into a seabird with the name Halcyon.

However, her days of sorrow never ended as she laid her eggs not in the spring but in the middle of winter meaning the sea’s waves would claim her chicks even before they had the chance to fly.

Her heartbreaking cry touched Zeus’ heart so he decided to make a period of good weather in January when the winds and the sea are calm. Thus, Halcyon can brood her eggs and teach her hatchlings to fly away before they are swept up by the sea.

Halcyon, therefore, stands as a symbol of serenity and tranquil seas. It also stands for optimism, bringing some relief from the melancholy of winter. Halcyon is also known as a symbol of marital faith — it is said that when Halcyon’s mate ages and is no longer able to fly, the female bird carries the male on her shoulders, caring for him until death.