Happy Onam to all my dear Malayalees in the whole universe...(Universe .. as there is a famous joke of a the first time Neil Armstrong landed on the moon to find a fellow Malayalee selling tea there. LOL )
Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in Kerala and if you google it, you get 1,510,000 results (as per 11:03 British Time on 02/09/2010). And I am 100% sure you will find the related stories in most of those results and therefore I thought I shall keep away from it. However to understand some of the customs followed, it becomes highly necessary to give a briefing on it...There was an asura king named Mahabali who loved and took care of his kingdom and subjects very well. However, the jealous devas were not happy about that and hence Lord Vishnu was sent to send him to hell as a Brahmin Boy. He reached the king and asked for all land that he could cover in three steps. The king happily accepted. The story goes that Lord Vishnu covered the earth and the skies in two steps and the king asked him to take the third step on his head to keep up with his promise. Lord Vishnu pleased by his nobility granted him a wish. The king wished that he could come to the earth once every year to see his subjects. The day that the king visits is celebrated as Onam.
So the joyous Keralites welcomes his arrival every year in grandeur. The festivities begin with laying a flower carpet everyday for about 10 days. On the day Onam is celebrated, there is a grand flower carpet, various poojas and an even grander lunch.
That is Onam...and I miss being atleast with family for the same...but that is life...