In the heart of winter, towards the end of January, the weather gets milder and the days become filled with light, in a phenomenon known as the Halcyon Days.
The mythic Halcyon Days got their name from the Kingfisher bird, the Halcyon, that broods its eggs on the sea rocks. Even though it’s a migratory bird, it does not leave during the fall, like most of them, but in the early spring. Thus, mild weather and bright days endure even in the depth of winter.
The phenomenon can also be explained meteorologically; at this time of year the barometric pressures between southern and northern Europe are equalized, creating milder weather.
Myth Begets Legend
According to Greek mythology, Halcyon was the daughter of the god of the winds, Aeolus. She and her husband Ceyx were married and lived happily together on the beach. The two envisioned themselves a power couple, comparable to Hera and Zeus. This disrespect enraged Zeus, who turned Ceyx into a vulture. Halcyon searched ceaselessly for her missing husband in the seas. As time passed, the Olympian Gods began to pity her and turned her into a seabird with the name Halcyon.
However, Halcyon’s hardships continued. As she laid her eggs not in the spring, like the other birds, but in the middle of winter, the strong waves would draw the eggs and hatchlings away before they had the chance to fly. The heartbreaking cry of Halcyon touched Zeus and the other Olympian Gods. So they decided to make a period of 15 days of good weather in January. During this period, the winds and the sea are calm so that Halcyon can brood her eggs and teach her hatchlings to fly away before they are swept up by the sea.
According to another myth, after Ceyx married Halcyon, he went fishing in the open seas, and strong winds sank his boat. The desperate Halcyon, who was watching from the shore, fell from the rocks and died. Their love was so strong that the Olympian Gods felt sorry for them and turned them into birds: Halcyons.
Those birds laid their eggs in the crevices of the rocks during the winter. In the middle of January, Zeus allowed the weather to warm for few days so the mother could brood the eggs. And this is how these summery days were named Halcyon Days.
An Uplifting Sign
In mythology, Halcyon symbolizes serenity, calmness, and tranquil seas. It also represents optimism, since the mild weather of these days lifts us up from the melancholy of winter. Halcyon is also known as a symbol of marital faith. It is believed that when the Halcyon’s mate ages and can no longer fly, the female bird carries the male on her shoulders, feeding and caring for him until death.
According to a medieval myth, Halcyon birds were originally grey. However, during the biblical flood, they are said to have flown so high that their breasts turned red-orange from the sun and their back turned as blue as the sky.