What do you want for Christmas?

When Christmas approaches, I often get caught up in my desire for material things, and I lose sight of what really matters. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I seem to forget how much I have to be thankful for – my loving family, my wonderful friends, my education, my country, the list goes on forever. I needed something to put everything in perspective, to remind me to appreciate everything that I already have, instead of focusing on what else I want, to motivate me to help others, instead of only worrying about my selfish, and usually unimportant, issues.

So a few years ago, I decided to start a Christmas tradition of reading the text of Robert G. Ingersoll‘s 1897 speech “What I Want for Christmas“:

“If I had the power to produce exactly what I want for next Christmas, I would have all the kings and emperors resign and allow the people to govern themselves.

I would have all the nobility crop their titles and give their lands back to the people. I would have the Pope throw away his tiara, take off his sacred vestments, and admit that he is not acting for God — is not infallible — but is just an ordinary Italian. I would have all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and clergymen admit that they know nothing about theology, nothing about hell or heaven, nothing about the destiny of the human race, nothing about devils or ghosts, gods or angels. I would have them tell all their “flocks” to think for themselves, to be manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to increase the sum of human happiness.

I would have all the professors in colleges, all the teachers in schools of every kind, including those in Sunday schools, agree that they would teach only what they know, that they would not palm off guesses as demonstrated truths.

I would like to see all the politicians changed to statesmen, — to men who long to make their country great and free, — to men who care more for public good than private gain — men who long to be of use.

I would like to see all the editors of papers and magazines agree to print the truth and nothing but the truth, to avoid all slander and misrepresentation, and to let the private affairs of the people alone.

I would like to see drunkenness and prohibition both abolished.

I would like to see corporal punishment done away with in every home, in every school, in every asylum, reformatory, and prison. Cruelty hardens and degrades, kindness reforms and ennobles.

I would like to see the millionaires unite and form a trust for the public good.

I would like to see a fair division of profits between capital and labor, so that the toiler could save enough to mingle a little June with the December of his life.

I would like to see an international court established in which to settle disputes between nations, so that armies could be disbanded and the great navies allowed to rust and rot in perfect peace.

I would like to see the whole world free — free from injustice — free from superstition.

This will do for next Christmas. The following Christmas, I may want more.”

Robert G. Ingersoll

Born in 1833, Robert Green Ingersoll was raised in a devoutly Christian household, headed by his father John Ingersoll, who was a Congregationalist preacher. John Ingersoll’s liberal religious views eventually led to him being forbade to preach by the more conservative Congregational church. A young Robert Ingersoll witnessed what he considered the unjust treatment of his father, which planted the seeds for his rejection of Christianity and his advocacy of agnosticism.

As an adult, Ingersoll would become a lawyer, Illinois Attorney General, a colonel for the Union in the Civil War, and eventually a public orator, for which he was most famous.

After hearing Ingersoll speak in November 1879, Mark Twain wrote to his wife about “that splendid old soul, Col. Bob Ingersoll.” He described Ingersoll’s speech with admiration: “Oh, it was just the supremest combination of English words that was ever put together since the world began. My soul, how handsome he looked, as he stood on that table, in the midst of those 500 shouting men, and poured the molten silver from his lips! Lord, what an organ is human speech when it is played by a master!”

Poet Walt Whitman, who was a personal friend of Ingersoll, described ‘Bob’ as “the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light.”

“The Great Agnostic,” as Ingersoll was known, died in 1899 at the age of 65.