15 Fun Activities to Celebrate Onam with Kids – Learn about this harvest festival from Kerala – the why, the how, and all the celebrations
A very Happy Onam to all the fabulous readers of Artsy Craftsy Mom! Onam is the official state festival of Kerala. It is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm all over the state by Malayalees regardless of religion, caste, or creed. We celebrate Onam every year on the 1st day of Chingam Masam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar which is a solar calendar. If you are intrigued about this harvest festival – the why, the how and all the celebrations, well read on!
Celebrating Onam the Harvest festival of Kerala, India
Why do we celebrate the Onam festival? The Legend of Onam
There was once a Demon King Mahabali, in whose rule there was peace, prosperity, and happiness. Now Demons are supposed to be bad and do evil things, but not Mahabali!
Mahabali was a devout follower of Lord Vishnu and under the influence of his Grandfather, Prahlada, who himself was a good demon! Being born in the royal family, Mahabali was destined to be a King one day! And he was a very good ruler too. But the Devas(Gods) were jealous of the growing prosperity of the land and the popularity of Mahabali.
Mahabali was not only a great ruler but was also a great conqueror and conquered all the 3 worlds. Gods who were humiliated by their defeat to Mahabali decided to seek help from Lord Vishnu.
Lord Vishnu then disguised himself as a small Brahmin boy (Vamana), went to Mahabali who had promised everyone that he would give them whatever they asked of him as a celebration of his win. Vamana then asked the King to grant him land that could be measured by 3 of his footsteps.
King’s advisors, who knew there was some trickery here advised him against making any promises! But the King, who realized who was Vamana, agreed to give him whatever he asked for. Then Vamana grew and grew.
In the first step, he took all of the lands on earth, in the second step he took all of the skies that belonged to the gods and there was now nowhere else to keep his 3rd leg. Here the great King asked Vamana to put his 3rd step on him! So Vamana placed a foot on Mahbali’s head thus pushing him under the earth into the underworld where all the demons reside!
But Lord Vishnu was impressed with Mahabali and gave him permission to rule the Underworld and also granted him one wish! Mahabali who loved his Praja (people) very much, asked him permission to visit them once a year! Lord Vishnu granted him his wish and on Onam day, Mahabali comes from the underworld to see if his Praja is happy. This is the legend of Onam and I suppose the only Demon King who is celebrated for goodness and prosperity!
How to Celebrate Onam with kids?
In Kerala, Onam is celebrated over 9 days, ending with Thiruvonam! Kids have much to rejoice and celebrate as they are gifted with new clothes, wonderful food served on Banana leaves, and loads of yummy sweets! People who have migrated away from their homeland miss the spirit and thrill of Onam but you could still do a lot in the comfort of your home!
Here are some of the activities you could do at home with your kids!
1. Make an Athapookalam (Flower Rangoli)
Traditionally in Kerala, we put a Rangoli with flowers & flower petals in front of our homes and in corridors. We start with a single ring on the first day of Onam, then add the 2nd ring on the 2nd day, and so on! On the 9th day, it is a huge Rangoli, with the colors of nature weaved beautifully in wonderful designs!
Plucking petals from the flower bud is a great fine motor activity for tots and mine enjoyed it immensely. We put our AthaPoo on a round plate because our 19-month-old was fascinated with the petals and kept picking the flowers off.
To avoid my 5-year-old getting frustrated, I gave both of them petals and a paper plate and let them go at it in their own unique ways! Here are the gorgeous results!
Image credit – Swati Mittal
2. Decorating Elephants
For centuries, our deity is carried on mighty Elephants for processions. The prowess and beauty of the Elephant are celebrated and revered in Kerala. The elephants are decorated with gold-plated Forehead ornament called Nettipatom. We love elephants ( who doesn’t?) and decided to decorate our very own Elephant Wall Hangings!
Download this free Printable Elephant Template to decorate on your own.
After the colors were dry, we did decorations, as per whatever Aarya wanted. For older kids, you could color the middle with a different color and then decorate! You could also add pom-poms (small ones) for the border, the possibilities are endless! Once your Elephants are ready, attach them to a rope with cello tape and hang them 🙂
3. Enjoy an Onam Sadhya (Onam Feast)!
We cook a Sadhya for Onam, which has more than 23 items all vegetarian with 2 Kheers (Payasams).
Print and cut out individual items of the sadhya.. learn about the dishes, and pretend to play while having fun setting up all the dishes on your banana leaf printable.
For an activity to do at home, I chose a very simple Kheer to make with Aarya, Semiyaa Payasam.
4. Make Onam Special Payasam
- Semiyaa ( Rice Seviya pre-roasted)
- Milk – 1 ltr
- Sugar 6 tbsp
- Condensed Milk (optional)
- Raisins/Kaju (dry fruits)
- In a pan pour 1 tablespoon, Aarya poured 1 cup Semiya and warmed it up. Roasting it like this gives a nice Ghee taste.
- In a thick bottomed vessel, boil the milk, once the milk comes to a boil, add the roasted Semiya with the ghee.
- Add sugar and let the Semiyaa cook.
- Once cooked, add 1 tbsp of condensed milk.
- Moms will roast the dry fruits and add them to the Kheer and serve it to them!
This is the most simple cooking activity any kid (supervised by parents) can do!
5. Watch the Boat Racing
One of the best things about Onam is all the fun celebrations that are hosted. And the best is boat racing. If you are in Kerala, it is almost the worst thing to miss the boat race at Onam time! It is AMAZING!
6. Make a Paper Racing Boat – Onam special craft
Hobby Vibes shares a video to make an easy and simple paper Boat. It is an easy Onam Boat that your children will love.
7. Make your own decorative Nettipattam :
Nettipattam is a decorative ornament that adorns the head of elephants especially when they are being taken out for procession as a part of temple pooja etc. It’s another traditional symbol of Kerala and will definitely be a good activity for Onam. Angela from Crafty Angels shares this & more ideas for Onam.
8. Make Coconut Tree Themed Gift Boxes
In Kerala, the coconut tree is called “Kalpa Vriksham” which essentially means all parts of a Coconut tree are useful in some way or another. Coconut is a staple ingredient in many Kerala dishes and coconut oil is widely consumed and used to make drinks such as coconut toddy and dishes such as appam. So these Coconut themed Gift Boxes by Craft Popups are perfect to gift someone on Onam
9. Make miniature Chundan Vallam (Onam Race Boat) at home
10. Make a Tiger Mask or Pulikali Mask – Onam Special
Pulikali – the tiger dance. A colorful folk art form and an integral part of Onam celebrations, ‘Pulikali’ meaning ‘tiger dance’ has trained artists dressing up as tigers and performing on the streets. Check out Bumpsnbaby for this simple Tiger mask for kids
11. Make a Kerala Diorama School Project
12. Make an Easy Onam Greeting Card
Make Onam Special Greeting Cards at Home- Click2 PaperCrafts shows an easy video tutorial
13. Onam Special Art for Kids – Oil pastel Tutorial
Make a simple Oil Pastel Onam Drawing – Enrich Minds shows how
14. Build a Kathakali Doll using the CrafToi Kathakali – 3D DIY Indian Paper Craft Kit Toy
This toy is an example of how good quality material and simple instructions can combine to make an engaging toy for kids. The Kathakali Doll looks fantastic and it also gives a sense of achievement to kids. Build stories around the toy and help kids understand Kerala & Onam. Buy it on Amazon.in here
15. Read a book – Celebrate Onam With Me! (From the Toddler Diaries)
Travel with Riya to “God’s Own Country” and learn how and why we celebrate Onam. Join her at the enchanting snake boat races, watch a beautiful flower arrangement take shape, and enjoy the delicious Onasadya feast while learning about the great King Mahabali. Step into this book and watch Onam come alive!
Onam is a celebration of a Demon King who was just and considered equal. Let us also in our little ways be just and stop judging other people. Let’s share our abundance. And be happy with our lives. From our Family to Yours, a very Happy and Blessed Onam to you! May prosperity, happiness, abundance, and humility be your friends.