Growing up in Highland Park, Ill., I always looked forward to seeing the beautiful Hanukkah decorations adorning businesses and homes during the winter holidays.But what was really exciting was spotting the rare home that was decked out in Christmas lights -- the exception, not the rule, in my neighborhood.When we moved to Texas, the reality that Jews were in the minority hit hard. Our first December in Fort Worth, I took my then-young children to the mall, where they instructed me to tell the many friendly shoppers wishing us "Merry Christmas" that we were Jewish and celebrated Hanukkah. Their desire to have other people validate their Jewish identity was very important to them.They attended the Fort Worth Hebrew Day School and didn't have to be torn about whether it was appropriate to sing religious Christmas hymns, decorate ornaments or write letters to Santa. Even so, the sights and sounds of everyone else celebrating Christmas made them feel they had been left off the invite list to a really great party.We don't have to share the same religious beliefs in order to enjoy the spectacle that is so much a part of the holiday season. I'm a sucker for those gorgeous light displays. I love to listen to the plethora of Christmas tunes on the radio (not until after Thanksgiving, though; there is such a thing as overkill).One of my fondest memories is of helping to decorate a schoolmate's Christmas tree (I supplied the dreidel-shaped cookies). Our friends even made a kosher Christmas dinner so we could share in their holiday meal.One attempt by many of us to counteract "Christmas envy" has been to increase the gift-giving. For many Jews, the original concept of distributing a few pieces of "Hanukkah gelt" (coins) has morphed into the tradition of showering eight nights' worth of presents upon our deserving little darlings.The fact is, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday, celebrating the hard-fought victory of the Maccabbees over the Syrian-Greeks, as well as the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days instead of just one. It is not a sacred and religious holiday like Christmas, and any attempt to compete with or compare them misrepresents its place in our own holiday cycle.There is no getting around the fact, however, that we do tend to feel a bit isolated at this time of year, especially when "Merry Christmas" seems to be the greeting of choice wherever we go.I asked my congregation: "Is it OK to wish Jews [or any non-Christian for that matter] a merry Christmas?"The majority were in agreement: neither bothered nor offended, unless it was someone who knew they were Jewish. Most felt it was more of a secular expression of good wishes for the season.Some had simply become immune to it. One member stated, "I guess I'm just so accustomed to being in the minority that it's second nature to hear Merry Christmas."But I'm wondering if, in the interest of fostering sensitivity and mutual respect, it's worth addressing the issue.When someone wishes anyone else "Merry Christmas," the assumption is that the recipient of the greeting also celebrates Christmas. Perhaps answering, in a polite and friendly way, "Actually, the holiday that I celebrate at this time of year is Hanukkah, but I wish you a merry Christmas, and thanks for your good wishes" could be a gentle reminder that this isn't always the case.It's true that at the moment we live in a predominantly Christian country. But we are also becoming increasingly more diverse. And despite our individual beliefs, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other light festivals do have common themes: hope, generosity, gratitude, joy and peace. That's something to celebrate.Sheri Allen of Fort Worth is cantor at Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington.