This year I have what might be easily described as the World’s Worst Christmas Tree. This sad little tree makes Charlie Brown’s tree look magazine cover-worthy. Yet, when covered with many many lights and a few well-loved ornaments, it doesn’t look too bad.

I like a tree where I can see the trunk. I find the contrast of the solid trunk and the green branches appealing. Plus, I think the lights and ornaments sparkle a bit more with the extra space between the branches.

I can definitely see through this year’s tree, especially through the big gaping holes that I conveniently turned to face the wall. This not-quite-tall-enough, not-quite-evenly shaped-enough, not-quite-soft-enough tree, despite its lack of beauty, has done its job. It has been the center of attention for weeks and will forever be the backdrop of photos, but soon it will be time to say goodbye.

What is the next chapter in the life of a Christmas tree when the holiday is over?

There is always the easy way out: Drag it to the street and let the City pick it up for recycling. It’s easy and quick, and I believe they shred the trees for mulch.

Since most of us don’t have a shredder at home, making our own Christmas tree mulch is not an option. But there are other ways to use your tree. If you bought a tree with a root ball, you can plant it. Again, not what most of us do.

This year, I will take my tree to the lower part of the yard and offer it as shelter for the small critters that roam the hill. There, it will be far from the house, and so will any animals that take up residence. It will provide protection from the wind, rain, and snow of winter. As it ages and seeps into the ground, it will add acid and improve the quality of the soil.

For a fun family project, keep the spirit of the holidays and use the tree as an outside birdfeeder. Brace the tree to stand upright. Mix suet and birdseed into shapes using cookie cutters and hang them on the tree. Try dipping pinecones in peanut butter and roll them in birdseed for edible ornaments. You can hang apples, pears, or any fruit that might be in your house. Don’t forget the popcorn tinsel.

Maybe you need a sturdy stake. Trim the branches and use the trunk as support for a garden project. The trimmed branches can provide cover for garden beds. With a little work, they can form small tents over your plantings and help protect them from the winter season. Then toss the branches in the compost bin when you are done.

Before taking the tree outside, I fill a basket with branches. It keeps the scent in the house and lets me slowly say goodbye. Another way to use the small branches and needles is to make tiny pillows or cachets, then tuck them around the house — just don’t forget where you put them, or you will find them in July. It would be easy to create a potpourri by adding cinnamon, cloves, or cranberries to the mix.

If you have a pond, consider submerging the tree and giving the fish a new hiding spot. The weight of the tree should keep it below water and over time algae will form, creating a feeding source for water creatures. So, not only are you recycling the tree, you are providing shelter and food in the water. If you don’t have a pond, be on the lookout for places that will accept your tree and use it for this very purpose.

This year I may not have the tree of awe-inspiring beauty, but I feel good knowing that this ordinary tree did its job through the holidays and will now continue to serve nature in a new role. My humble, not-so-magazine-worthy tree will prove me wrong and become the tree with a noble cause as protector of the forest animals who live at the little house on a big hill.