The Epiphany celebrations in the Portuguese village of Vale de Salgueiro feature a tradition that each year causes an outcry among outsiders: Parents encouraging their children, some as young as 5, to smoke cigarettes.
Locals say the practice has been passed down for centuries as part of a celebration of life tied to the Christian Epiphany and the winter solstice — but nobody is sure what it symbolizes or exactly why parents buy the packs of cigarettes for their children and encourage them to take part.
The two-day celebrations, which start Friday and end Saturday with a Mass, include dancing around bonfires, a piper playing music and an elected “king” who distributes plentiful wine and snacks.
The legal age to purchase tobacco in Portugal is 18, but nothing prohibits parents from giving kids smokes, and Portuguese authorities don’t intervene to stop the practice.
Guilhermina Mateus, a 35-year-old coffee shop owner, cites custom as the reason why she gives her daughter cigarettes.