Halcyon Days: Spring Appears in the Middle of Winter in Greece

Halcyon Days in Athens. Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

With temperatures expected to rise to 24°C (75.2°F) this week, Greece will feel the unique phenomenon of the Halcyon Days, aka Alkyonides Days, creating a mini summer break amidst the winter.

Greece has been recording very high temperatures for the season. Temperatures have been up to seven degrees higher on the Celsius scale than the average of the period from 2010 to 2020.

Higher than usual temperatures were recorded on Christmas Day, according to the Athens National Observatory’s meteo.gr automatic meteorological stations network.

Temperatures reached and in some areas exceeded 20° Celsius. The high temperatures for the season prompted many winter swimmers to go to the beaches for a swim on Christmas Day. Meteorologists say that the warm spell in Greece will last at least until next weekend.

The phrase, translated into “Halcyon days” in English, has a literal meaning of calm, peaceful days. It is the translation of ‘Alkyonides Meres.’

The Alkyonides Days take place from around December 15th to February 15th each year. During this time, the days are typically sunny, with clear skies and no wind. High temperatures are not typical for the season.

During Alkyionides Days, in the midst of winter, temperatures that climb up to over 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) are typical for about a week.

Where does the name Halcyon Days come from?

Alkyonides Days are named after the bird Alcyone (halcyon), which lays its eggs during this time of year in the cracks of seaside rocks. The allegorical meaning is of the homonymous star called “Alcyone” in the Pleiades constellation.

During this period, the star Alcyone culminates its orbit during the evening hours and during the cloudless nights in January, the star is visible in the cluster of the Pleiades, located in the highest part of the celestial dome.

As a result of this simple natural event, all the consecutive days that the Alcyone star is visible were named ‘Alkyonides.’

From a meteorological point of view, Alkyonides Days come about as a result of the combination of the latitude of Greece, heightened barometric pressure during this time of year, a lack of wind, cool temperatures, and intense sunshine.

The myth

There are several myths surrounding the phenomenon of the Alkyonides Days, the most common of which is the story of Alcyone, daughter of Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind.

Alcyone was the devoted wife of Ceyx, King of Thessaly in central Greece. Ceyx ruled his kingdom with justice and in peace. Alcyone and Ceyx were admired by gods and mortals alike for their physical beauty and profound love for each other.

Zeus punished the arrogant couple who dared to compare themselves to gods by plunging Ceyx’s ship into the sea and drowning him. Alcyone lamented her loss so much so that she then threw herself into the sea and drowned, determined to join her husband in the land of the dead.

The gods of Olympus were so profoundly affected by the tragic fate of the couple and their abiding love for one another that Zeus transformed the couple into halcyon birds. Yet the birds were still condemned to give birth in the winter every year.

After the waves of the sea crashed into the rocks and destroyed Alcyone’s nest and eggs, Zeus once again felt regretful and ordered the winds to stop and the sun to shine for fifteen days in the heart of the winter so that Alcyone could safely lay her eggs.

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