The meaning of Thanksgiving

To many Americans, Thanksgiving is traditionally marked by families enjoying a sumptuous feast with the turkey taking centerstage. Parades and football games are also held, contributing to the merrymaking. For airlines and airports, Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year, when family members make it a point to travel and have a family reunion in celebrating the holiday.

The celebrations were largely subdued in 2020, mainly because many Americans avoided traveling and large gatherings for fear of further spreading COVID-19. In the weeks following Thanksgiving, there was a high number of cases estimated at over 16 million, while more than 220,000 COVID-19-related deaths were recorded between November 2020 and January 2021.

But this year, the merrymaking is back – with an estimated 53.4 million Americans traveling for Thanksgiving to celebrate with their families, many of whom they have not visited for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that placed restrictions on physical interactions. According to reports, an estimated 20 million Americans traveled by air during the Thanksgiving period, prompting the US Transportation Security Administration to issue advisories for travelers to arrive early to prevent long waits for security checks. Trains and buses also reported an increase in passenger volumes, with many at full capacity.

Obviously, the COVID-19 vaccines have been a game changer as they were effective tools in helping prevent not only the further spread of COVID-19 but serious illness and even death. More than 194 million Americans have received two COVID-19 vaccine doses, while over 226 million have received one dose and about 28.6 million have received booster shots.

Nevertheless, this is also the time for people to employ greater caution because of the possibility of surges due to big crowds going to restaurants, stores and other establishments – having been deprived of doing their usual activities pre-pandemic. According to projections by the National Retail Federation, Americans will break previous holiday sales as they will be spending up to $859 billion or 10.5 percent more than what they spent last year.

Unfortunately, infections are also beginning to spike again in the US, with an average of over 93,000 new cases recorded per day – up by 46 percent since late October – along with an increase in the number of hospitalizations across the country. The cold weather is exacerbating the situation, as it marks the onset of the flu season that can also cause severe illness or death especially among the vulnerable or high-risk groups – which is why people should continue wearing masks, maintaining hygiene such as frequent hand washing and keeping social distancing to prevent the spread of infection.

Health experts continue to issue warnings because a big number of adult Americans – estimated at 30 percent of the population – are still unvaccinated despite various incentives such as cash payments, lotteries and freebies. Many parents are also hesitant to have their children vaccinated. Reports have shown that unvaccinated individuals are five times at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and 14 times at higher risk of dying from the illness, compared to those who have been vaccinated.

In the Philippines, Thanksgiving is not a national holiday but many Filipinos, especially those with relatives in the United States, continue to celebrate it by having dinner with their family and even friends. The celebration is usually done at home, but many also have Thanksgiving dinners in restaurants, especially with the alert level in Metro Manila having been downgraded to Level 2, allowing more indoor establishments to operate at 50 percent capacity for vaccinated individuals.

Although the number of cases has significantly dropped – with 863 new cases reported last Friday – health authorities continue to advise caution, urging local government leaders to intensify their community response as “there are still a lot of uncertainties” – recalling the past when cases dropped for some time then showed an uptick again.

The Philippines made the swift decision of immediately suspending flights from South Africa, Botswana and other countries following reports of the new coronavirus variant B.1.1.529. now known as Omicron and described as “heavily mutated.” African scientists have warned that this new variant could show “immune evasion and enhanced transmissibility” which could derail efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

I cannot agree more with the IATF that we should control the number of people coming in to the country, and that these travelers should be fully vaccinated and must present a negative RT-PCR test prior to travel.

We must also laud the unrelenting effort of the IATF and Secretary Charlie Galvez to ramp up the country’s vaccination rollout and have half of the target population fully vaccinated by the end of November with the countrywide implementation of the National Vaccination Days from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.

Thanks to the generous vaccine donations coming from the United States, we have been able to roll out our vaccination program more extensively. That is why whenever I meet US government officials or have a speaking engagement with an American audience, I never fail to tell them how grateful we are and why their country is blessed.

Not too long ago, I got to talk to a longtime close personal friend about life in general and what we felt was the real meaning of Thanksgiving. We talked about being blessed in life and that we had a lot to be grateful for. We both concluded that the real meaning of “thanksgiving” is exactly summed up in the words “thanks” for all the blessings in life, and “giving” to those who have less in life.

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