I have long associated the term “halcyon days” with old novels and poems. It brings to mind an imaginary time of utopian fair days of idealized youth and happiness. This image coincides with today’s popular notion that “halcyon days” refers to a wistful, happy nostalgia about vital youth and adolescence.
When I decided to investigate the term, a different image, altogether, came to light.
Right now, as of today, we are in the halcyon days. The time span actually refers to 14-days around the winter solstice. The days have nothing to do with summery days of youthful frolicking and blooming of personal joy.
The beautiful sounding word “Halcyon” is the name of a legendary Greek bird. Ancient inhabitants of the area around the Aegean Sea believed that this iconic bird constructed a floating nest in the waters and used special powers to calm the normally turbulent waves so she could brood her eggs. The traditional days of the Halcyon began around the 14th or 15th of December and ended approximately the 21st or 22nd of this month.
A romantic story about the beginnings of this old belief began with a tale that was written down by the Roman poet, Ovid. His version relates that the ruler of the winds, Aeolus, had a daughter named Alcyone. She was married to the king of Thessaly, Ceyx. One day, Ceyx drowned in the sea. In her grief, the widow threw herself into the waters. However, Alcyone did not drown. Instead, she was transformed into a mythical bird and was carried to the late husband by her father, the wind.
Throughout time, the story spread across Europe and into England. By the 1500s, “halcyon days” had slowly shed its association with the nesting period of the Halcyon bird. Writers, like William Shakespeare, began to use the phrase in the figurative sense as “calm days”. The feeling that the term is quaint and obsolete probably is due to the fact of its ancient origins and its use by writers from long ago.
These days, we rarely hear anyone recall the halcyon days of youth. The usual phrases are “back in the day”, “when I was much younger”, or something very similar. If the average citizen said “in the halcyon days of my teens”, she would probably be regarded as a peculiar relic.
At the risk of seeming overtly eccentric, I propose that we make the term “halcyon days” popular again. I think it’s necessary, because adolescence is about much more than sowing ones oats, having a good time, or “happy days”. Nor, do “halcyon days” need to be restricted to youth.
We can turn to a flowery writing to provide an eloquent description of this elusive quality. Historian Frank C. Lockwood wrote: “Man ever is and always shall be blessed; for he loves, and love is an onward current that never ebbs; and borne upon this current, humanity will at last make its far, fair haven; and meanwhile, as it voyages, it will find the course not too rough, but glorified by frequent halcyon days and calm nights set with stars.” Once we get past Lockwood’s liberties with sentence structure and punctuation, we discover subtle wisdom.
Lockwood observed that we all have various chapters in our lives that are examples of deeply wonderful times. Those times go far beyond “employee of the month” awards, or superficial popularity. Our own “halcyon days” are times of existential resolution and deep personal fulfillment.
Outsiders or even our intimate partners would be hard-pressed to understand our “halcyon days” in a satisfactory way. Those chapters only live deep in our hearts.
“Halcyon Days” go beyond nostalgia. “Halcyon Days” make up our very personalities. Perhaps more “Halcyon Days” are yet to come.