The boy calls it “the scanky tree.” I’d tell him not to talk like that, especially since neither of us is quite sure of the full implications of the word “scanky,” except that this year’s Christmas tree is indeed scanky.

Along with scanty and sparse. Or measly and meager. Only in “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” have I seen such a sad little tree.

I spent an hour yesterday when I really didn’t have time — I had, after all, not done the crossword puzzle in the newspaper yet — trying to mold it into the harbinger of festivity that a Christmas tree should be. It sort of worked, though it took a new string of lights and garden clippers to do it. And a wall to hide the worst excesses of the bear that I presume gnawed away one side.

Its spindly little branches only support the most ethereal of ornaments. Even then, a glassine rose weighing, say, a eighth of an ounce, tired its branch out and left it drooping with fatigue. The resin cowboy Santa made our little fir positively suicidal.

We bought it in the service of a good cause, at least. Forestry graduate students were trying to lessen the depredations of the California state government by selling trees. It was obvious that they followed good forestry practice by taking the weak and diseased.

And when I say “we” bought the tree, I mean the man of the place. I take no credit for the good impulse to support higher education and no responsibility for the resulting weed in the family room. Good cause or not, the unanimous vote called for him to never, ever buy a tree on his own again.

It’s not the first time we’ve had a, let us say, less than traditional tree. One year, when the girl was about two, we left tree buying so long that we learned that all Christmas tree lots are closed by 3 pm Christmas Eve. Luckily, there are woods on our property. Unluckily, this being coastal California, we had our choice of oak, bay or madrone trees. We chose a whippy little bay sapling, which held about a half-dozen ornaments. Like our other meager little tree, it smelled good, though it was more the smell of a good stew than the smell of Christmastime. We have a picture of the girl spread-eagled underneath it, flattened with the effort of hauling it up the hill for her father.

Our sorry little tree has taught us a lot, of course, as such things do at Christmas time. We learned not to laugh too loudly at it in my husband’s presence, tact being a valued Christmas virtue, expressed sometimes with straight faces and sometimes in phrases like “pass the port wine jello.”

We learned good garden shears are worth their weight in gold, frankincense and myrrh, and brightly-colored lights cover a multitude of sins.

We learned that cats aren’t tree snobs, as long as they have ornaments to pull off and bat around.

We learned whatever promotes Christmas merriment is worth a lowering of esthetic values, at least temporarily.

We learned that boxes and bows lend a glow to anything they might be tucked underneath.

Those of you with lush forest nobility in your living rooms, congratulations. We hope to join your ranks another year. In the meantime, we’ll have ourselves a merry little Christmas tree and let our hearts be light.