During my childhood, Onam festivities consisted of a three-day holiday from my Kendriya Vidyalaya School which followed the central government holiday regulations rather than the Kerala calendar. I envied my cousins who got a ten-day long vacation break starting on the eve of Onam.
The Onam celebrations meant a pookkalam (an arrangement of flowers) in school, and we students were allowed to don civil clothes on this day. But my English medium school was not culturally a fertile site for Onam celebrations since it lacked the sensibility of Kerala schools—it had a more cosmopolitan atmosphere. To make it worse, the payasam (sweet porridge) that was served was bought from a store and not freshly-prepared.
We dressed up on the day of thiruvonam as if we would be inspected by an imaginary guest—we wore our best outfits that were brand new or smelt like that. And we would feast on a grand vegetarian feast. The surfeit of payasams would make up for the absence of non-vegetarian food.