I write, as they say around here, on the last day of the year. Well, I type; this sort of rambling essay is hardly ever composed beginning-to-end while sitting at a computer. More typically my occasional contribution develops — for better or worse — in bits, scribbles in pencil on the B side of an incoming fax or in notebooks over a mug-up. Somebody in the coffee shop may have perfectly articulated some oft-asked question which I foolishly presume myself qualified to answer. Maybe we have passed yet another sentimental milestone here on Matinicus and I quite oddly think it newsworthy. Or, some business at hand triggers an inclination to riot, and I wish encouragement toward insurrection. There is little art here. Any regular reader can attest to that.

The end of December also isn’t universally considered the last day of the year. Whooping it up to thumb our noses at the bad old days of the past year, or welcome all high hopes for the next, on January 1st is rather arbitrary. I just received an annual New Year’s greeting from a college friend whose family is back in the People’s Republic, and New Year’s there (much more the big deal, good for a week’s vacation) falls later in the winter. We often celebrate some version of Chinese New Year out here because we like to cook, and because it is a decent time of year for fireworks as there are fewer underfoot who might object, and because a noisy and delicious holiday in the dead of winter when the entire neighborhood totals a couple dozen—that, dear friend, is a gift. Say what you feel you should about cultural appropriation, but when it’s early February offshore, anyone might benefit mightily from firecrackers and fried dumplings. (That’s also why people who don’t watch football on Matinicus still look forward to Super Bowl Sunday.)

New Year’s was celebrated in the spring by older cultures, more grounded in their agriculture or their wildness, which makes perfect sense. The appearance of the first few snowdrops does seem the time when things begin anew. I know, I know; forgive the cliché. New Year’s adjusts itself around the particular mathematics of multiples of 29-and-a-fraction where lunar calendars are the custom, and thus Jewish, Islamic, and various Asian New Years differ a bit each year by our reckoning. This wobbling is a sensible nod to the real world, which is far less regular than we like to pretend. But we are Americans, and we like our metrics neat; it makes the bookkeeping more orderly. We imagine our lives less chaotic when we can stop and start things on schedule.

A date called “one-one” has its appeal.

Island life proves such engineered control a load of nonsense and a frank impossibility, but we try. Some of us who stay the year on this rock might think it meaningful to celebrate the end of a year around Labor Day, or maybe around freeze-up, when most people leave and life becomes noticeably different. To be entirely reflective of island life, our holiday should probably be announced on very short notice at some random date based on the weather report.

There is so little difference between December 31st and January 1st. Surrounding cultural chatter goes on about resolutions and year-in-review lists and New Year’s Eve festivities, but I don’t actually know anybody who gets rigged up in expensive clothing and “cute” shoes, goes to a glamorous party, drinks champagne and makes noise at midnight, and wakes up with a sick hangover on the 1st thus requiring the day off from the salt mine. The post office and the phone company technically have the day off on January 1st but everybody’s around and can work if need arises. The 31st seems more like the real holiday anyway.

I will do a “polar bear dip” in our northern ocean, for the sake of tradition and my own relationship with this great big sea — but not with a gang of sillies wearing lobster claw ear-warmers for the TV camera or, perish the thought, any sort of shoes on their feet. One must get cold toes if one is to make a respectable polar bear. My dunking raises money for no worthy cause, nor do I scream and shriek. I will certainly not accomplish great things in the coming year (to quote somebody — I forget who — “leap tall buildings in a single bound, fix parking tickets, and get yourself elected Queen of the May”). Resolutions are all well (“I have seventeen books I need to write”) and good with a sense of humor but we need not bully ourselves. I should fly more, skate more, hike more, and talk less.

So resolved. Happy New Year, even be it one of several.