Halcyon Days

The phrase “halcyon days” has always meant nothing more to me than general nostalgia. Since moving to Crete, and more particularly since spending winter here, I’ve learned its original, much more specific meaning.

Winters here are very mild compared to what I’m used to from London and New York. It’s around 15°C most days, although it rains quite a bit and is damp because we’re close to the sea. It also gets chilly inside because the apartment is built for summer – the wall facing the sea is all glass sliding doors, and you can’t keep any heat in. Anyway, I know I won’t get any sympathy from those of you in more northern climes, so I’ll press on…

Halcyon daysOver the past couple of weeks, we had a bout of warm, sunny weather, more like 20°C and with no wind. The sea was completely calm. We ate lunch outside on the balcony. It felt like spring. People tell me it happens every year around this time, and they call it the “halcyon days”.

The original story of the halcyon days comes from Greek mythology. Alcyone, or Halcyon, was someone who, like many other gods and goddesses, got on the wrong side of Zeus.

In his anger, Zeus transformed Alcyone into a kingfisher and condemned her to lay her eggs during the winter. But then Zeus, moved by Alcyone’s grief, granted her a few days of good weather in the middle of winter to lay her eggs and see her baby birds live.

Those few days of good weather are the halcyon days I just experienced. I didn’t see any kingfishers, but apparently they do winter here. The modern Greek term for “kingfisher” is alkyona.

The term “halcyon days” was used by sailors to describe the unusual spell of calm weather, and eventually passed into modern English usage with its connotations of kingfishers and calm seas completely lost, and only the general nostalgia remaining. To compensate for the loss, we tend to add the cheesy term “of yore” to the end of it.

I can see why we do use the phrase to describe happier days, though. The halcyon days have only just ended, but already I miss them. Today was grey and cloudy, and I had to switch on the heater, and still shivered because all the warmth flowed out through those big glass doors. Oh for the halcyon days of yore…

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Comments

  1. says

    That’s a very informative post with a nice story behind the name. And the sea looks amazing!
    I’m with you on the weather, we’ve experienced the coldest season in perhaps 15 years here in Bangkok and I woke up in the morning to 16 degrees Celsius. Not pleasant, when you don’t like the cold. And there’s no heating system either, so it was long sleeves and pants instead of shorts for a while and two blankets at night. We’re back to 30 degrees now and it’s actually nice as there’s no humidity.
    The glass doors must be nice, looking out to the sea every morning….

    • says

      Hi Delia

      It does make a difference, doesn’t it, when your place is not geared up for the cold. 15 or 16 degrees in England would be a nice day, especially at this time of year. But when you don’t have proper heating, it’s chilly. Glad to hear that you’re back to normal now!

      Yes, the glass doors are great! There’s a big window on the side, too, so it feels as if the sea is everywhere. It’s only for these few months that it’s been a downside. From March onwards it should start getting warm again.

  2. Richard Clark says

    What a wonderful post, I lived in Crete when I was younger and remember those days so well, but the winter can still come back to bite you… Still your post did make me think of those days as I sit doing final edits in a washed out Kent in the UK. Good to have found your site.

    • says

      Hi Richard

      I’m glad you found my site too. Where did you live in Crete? Do you ever come back to visit?

      I’m from Kent too (well, the London suburban part) and my parents still live there, so they’ve been telling me about the storms and floods. Hope you stay above the water line long enough to finish your final edits!

  3. says

    Glad to hear you’ve had a little respite from the elements, Andrew, albeit a short one. No such luck for us here in Blighty, I’m sorry to say. The bloke next door has grown a long beard and is working on some huge nautical project in his garden. Keeps talking about judgement and doves….

    Anyway, Spring is surely just around the corner – a long, slow corner in our neck of the woods but that’s the price we pay for living in this green and pleasant land …:)

    Give my regards to Chania!

    Best,

    Scott

    • says

      Hi Scott

      Good to hear from you. Yes, I heard it’s been quite a winter there! You’re right, spring is just around the corner, no matter how long that corner takes to turn. Reminds me of John Major and his “green shoots of recovery”. I guess they did sprout in the end, but he might have been out of power by then!

  4. says

    Wow, Crete looks to be so very beautiful.

    Though your true halcyon days have ended, your grey and cloudy days still seem a nicer then the 15 inches of snow that we had in New York last week ?

  5. says

    Hi Andrew – thank you for this – I lived in eastern Crete for many years in the late 1980’s and just loved the halcyon days of January. Magical – just as the is the myth. Great to have found your site. Sending my love to Crete. F

    • says

      Hi Francesca

      Great to meet another Cretophile, if that’s a word. I’m at the other end of Crete, in the west, but that eastern part is lovely. Some beautiful towns, and I particularly like the part in the far southeastern corner where you can drive for miles without seeing anyone. Thanks for visiting, and I also saw that you mentioned the post on Google+ so thanks for that too :-)

  6. says

    Halcyon days sounds beautiful, both in the word and the serenity of the weather.

    You don’t get them here in England, I would even settle for cold but wind and rain free days.

    Also, if they occur I could take a moment to impress people with my new knowledge of Halcyon.

    • says

      It doesn’t seem fair, somehow, Alice – of all the places that need respite in midwinter, England surely deserves a look-in? But then, you have no kingfishers in winter – they all fly south to Greece for the winter. So no halcyon days for you, I’m afraid…

    • says

      Hi Stefanie
      Yes, that’s our view. It is very beautiful, and constantly changes with different tides, currents, weather conditions, etc. Makes for lots of fruitful window-gazing!

  7. says

    Beautiful post, Andrew! I didn’t know that there was a mythological story behind the word ‘halcyon’. So happy to discover that! It is so nice to know that ‘halcyon’ days actually come during winter. Nice to know that you enjoyed them. The picture you have posted looks so beautiful.

    • says

      Thanks Vishy! I didn’t know about the story either. I think so many of our words have mythological roots, but often they become lost. It was nice to uncover this story, and I’m glad you enjoyed it :-)

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