Halcyon days & Alkionides Meres
A Greek winter can be cold and in the mountainous areas on the mainland, we can have snow most of the winter. But every year there are also some very warm days with a lot of sunshine. Those days are called the “Halcyon days” or “Alkionides Meres”. A pity is that we never know what days these calm sunshiny days appear. Usually it is the end of January, a non-interrupted period with blue skies and warm temperatures. The ancient Greek myth of Halcyon is a tender story of love and commitment, which explains the Halcyon sunny days of calm seas and winds.
The Myth of Halcyon
Halcyon (Alcyone in Greek) was the daughter of Aeolus, the God of the Winds. Halcyon was married to the mortal king Ceyx and they lived by the sea. Ceyx drowned in a huge storm despite the warnings of Halcyon. Poseidon (the God of the Sea) brought his body to his wife’s arms. Halcyon was desperate and threw herself into the dark waves. Amazed by her love and devotion, the gods decided to save her and to transform her into a seabird. They also turned Ceyx into another kingfisher so the two could live and be together. Halcyon would lay her eggs only in winter. Having her nest near the shore, close by the spot where she found the body of Ceyx, the stormy waves kept sweeping away her eggs. Therefore Zeus decided to give her some days of good and calm weather in the middle of winter: so these are the Halcyon days. The phrase Halcyon days today also signifies prosperity, joy, liberation and, of course, tranquility.
From a purely meteorological point of view, the halcyon days are explained by the fact that at the latitude where Greece is found and mainly untill that of northeastern Europe, during the winter there is a period of high barometric pressure (pressure equalization). That consequently creates suspension of the wind on one hand and on the other hand the weather is chilly but sunny, because of the prevalence of anticyclonic conditions.
One of my favorite traditions in Greece that has been a long lasting tradition, is to make the Martis bracelet and wear it on the first day of March. The name of such a bracelet is derived from the Greek word Martios, which is the month of March. The 1st of March indicating the beginning of Spring in Greece, therefore a promise of warmer days and a burning sun. A grandma or a mother or a teacher will make these bracelets to protect the children from the burning March sun…’ and as they tied a double knot around the child wrist they say ‘his bracelet that I make for you, will protect you from the burning March sun.” “Οπόχει κόρη ακριβή τον Μάρτη ήλιος μη τη δει”, denoting that the precious children will not be burned by the sun’s rays that are said to be strong this month of March. All that is needed is string and maybe a blue “xandra” to protect them from the evil eye as well. It is customary that mothers and teachers make this bracelet for their children by using the colors red and white, symbolic of the red rosy cheeks and a white complexion, this bracelet will protect them.
Depending on which part of Greece you are from there are several variations of this ritual. The one I know that is close to my heart is that when the month ends, I cut off the bracelet and tie it to a tree branch for the swallows to come and make their nest. Others say that they wear the bracelet until Easter day, and burn it with the lamb that is roasted. This is said to be symbolic of Christ’s resurrection, where all our sins burn away and disappear.
What is the underlying idea when making the Marti bracelet after all? The story that is told to the children, while the love of our Greek traditions grow in their sacred hearts and souls.
May Day all over the world know as Labour Day but in Greece it’s also an ancient and much-loved holiday tradition which marks the celebration of spring. Is traditionally celebrated in the countryside, where friends and families gather and collect their flowers and have their picnic. The custom of May 1st is to decorate the doors of houses with flower wreaths in a way to welcome the power and blessing of nature into our home. We celebrate nature’s beauty and its freshness. The wreath is made from various flowers, handpicked and knitted together. The wreaths adorn the doors of the houses until the day of St. John the Harvester (June 24) when all the wreaths of the neighborhood are gathered and burnt in a big fire, the fire of the saint.
The custom of protomagia, translating as the first day of May dates back to the ancient times. The name Maios (May) originated from the Goddess Maia, also the mother of Hermes. The name Maia embodies the concept of growth and nurture — translating as both mother and midwife. May, has two meanings: The good and the bad, rebirth and death. The custom celebrates the final victory of the summer against winter as the victory of the life against death go back at the ancient years and accumulated at the first day of May. This day was also dedicated to the goddess of agriculture Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who this day emerges from the under world and comes to earth. Her coming to earth from Hades marks the blooming of nature and the birth of summer…
The start of the four seasons
Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of harvest, had a child under the name of Persephone. Demeter loved her only child dearly, and under her protective wings, Persephone grew up to become a beautiful well-mannered girl. Hades, the god of the underworld and brother of Zeus, understood that even though he had fallen madly in love with Persephone, that no women would, by their own free will, come with him to the underworld. So he made himself a plan to catch Persephone: On a summery day, Persephone went for a walk to enjoy all the treasures of nature that her mother had created. all of a sudden she felt the ground moving, and close to her feet the earth started to crack open and in a split moment four black horses followed by a carriage came out. In an state of fear and panic, Persephone was frozen to the ground and before she even could cry for help she disappeared with Hades in the ground that closed after them. This all happened so fast that nobody had seen it, except for Zeus, he is the upper god and Helios, being the daylight. Demeter was inconsolable and remained confounded to roam the earth. Zeus was very worried, harvests failed, rivers dried up and mankind was on the verge of extinction. So he made a deal with his brother. He gave Hades the permission of having Pershepone in the underworld for six months in the year and the other six months she was allowed to be with her mother. Before Hades allowed Pershepone to go back to her mother he gave her a magic pomegranate, when she took a bite, Hades was guaranteed that she would come back. At the moment Pershepone returns back to the Earth, her mother is overwhelmed with joy and love and she, through her love for her daughter, creates the most glowing and growing period of the year, the feeling of spring. But on the moment that Pershepone has to go back to the underworld, her mother is drowning in sorrow and all the glow will wither, it’s the beginning of autumn. The underworld is split up in three parts. The better human you were, the better part you went to. The Greeks did not believe in a heaven and hell per se; instead, their dead went in the realm of Hades. Elusium, also know as ‘ Ilse of the Blessed’, was where the exceptional humans were sent; most mortals became mere ‘shadows’ upon their deaths. A few worthless ended being in tartarus, the closest equivalent to hell in Greek mythology.
It is not Zeus who has our destiny and fate in his hands. It is literally the threads of the Fates who are three sisters. Lachesis is the ruler of your joy and sadness, Clotho is the spinner of your thread of life and Atropos will cut your thread, when your time has come. Nobody can alter their decisions.
Tonight is the celebration for Zakynthians, mostly in Zante town, with the tradition of the Malliari! As this evening is the last day of July, before the 15-day fasting period leading up to one of the biggest Orthodox celebrations, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, on the 15th August. The bell towers will announce the start of lent at 12 o clock… The Zakynthians will go to the edge of the sea where the sea breaks, take their shoes off, roll-up their trousers or skirts to catch the ‘malliari’. A stone which has ‘sprouted plants’ that grow underneath the sea water. The trophy will be held high, the more hairy( grass) stone the better as it will bring you lots of luck. It is been said that the unmarried will see those who they will marry in their dreams, when they place the stone under their bed. The “Malliari” is a centuries-old Zakynthian tradition mostly known in Zante town.