You know Halloween is coming when ghoulish skulls and scarecrows take their places on porches, in front or back yards, or hanging from a tree.

When someone asked me a few years ago what my Halloween costume would be, I had no idea. Maybe a pirate, some suggested. A pirate? The first thing I thought of was the Somalia pirates’ costumes: unbuttoned shirt, a sarong and flip flops. But this is, of course, not what comes to the mind of Americans when they think about a pirate. Their pirates wear boots, a vest and a coat.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

Halloween is a new territory for refugee families and those seeking asylum, but every child and adult can enjoy the holiday, no matter what their background is. New Mainers, however, need to navigate how to trick and treat in their own way, without dressing up like Americans.

Halloween brings out unfamiliar terminology and clothing to those of us who did not grow up here. There is no equivalent word for “dinosaur” in Somali. This animal does not exist in our stories. Similarly, Cirfiid, the fairy Somali creature with big red eyes and long hoofs, thought to come out of the ocean at night, does not exist in American fairy tales. But a Cirfiid costume would be a good fit for a child who understands that culture, rather than a dinosaur costume.

The skeletons and skulls that hang from trees or sit on porches spook kids who have seen real skulls of dead humans. As a kid, skulls of real, dead humans were littered on the streets, like we see roadkill on U.S. highways. When we talk about ghosts, our ghosts come out at nights as skeletons, they roam around the villages and bite little kids. They are not spirits; they are real skeletons. This is what I believed as a kid, and many kids still do.

We are not familiar with scarecrows, but we know spiderwebs well and they are not related to spookiness at all. As a kid I was taught that spiders protected prophet Mohammed from his enemies by building webs all around the cave where he was hiding. Spiders are sacred, protected and loved. But here kids may scream when they see a spider.

Halloween is fun in many ways besides the cultural differences. Sharing free candy with strangers is such a foreign idea to many of us, but it’s also a thrill. I talked about Halloween with my niece, who is now 13 and living in a displaced camp in Mogadishu. I talked to her about all the kinds of candy we have here; she is not familiar with any of them. It is her dream to one day trick-or-treat to get all those different candies. I used to be in her place as a child and a teenager. I never got candy easily or for free. So, I understand why this is her dream.

Americans are serious about holidays like Halloween. They spend so much money during this festival without paying much attention to what the rest of the world is like. According to Concern Worldwide US, a global organization working to end extreme poverty, Americans spend more on candy in a year than the government spends on foreign aid, including food and water for the needy in displaced persons or refugee camps.

Many of us feel guilty celebrating Halloween, purchasing costumes and spending money on candy and pumpkins. As you celebrate this year, please remember to take a moment and think of those children who are not lucky enough to trick-or-treat for free candy.

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