Village encourages children to smoke for festival

Across the globe people have spent the weekend marking the Christian festival of Epiphany with traditions like outdoor swimming, festive cakes and singing.

But in a small village in northern Portugal, marking the revelation of God incarnate in part means encouraging children as young as five to try cigarettes.

The tradition in Vale do Salgueiro is not thought to exist elsewhere, and while kids have lit up for as long as the population can remember, no-one seems to have any idea where it came from or what it is meant to symbolise.

Epiphany festival
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It is not known where the tradition comes from

“Only those who live and are raised here can truly understand the meaning of this tradition,” village parish president Carlos Cadavez said.

He explained that his 10-year-old daughter Luisa would likely smoke two to three packets of cigarettes during the days of the celebration, a number he did not suggest was unusual in the town.

“I don’t ask for people to understand, it is not easy to do so, anyone might think we are not good,” he said, pointing to a photograph in which a group of children proudly dragged on their ash-tipped smokes.

Jose Ribeirinha, who has written a book on the Vale do Salgueiro festivities, said the village’s relative geographical isolation meant it had likely held on to older traditions.

Epiphany festival
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The festival marks Epiphany, a Christian holiday

“Normally traditions tend to disappear when there’s many people together,” he said, adding that the village is in an area of Portugal far from Lisbon and known as the “forgotten one”.

Vale do Salgueiro does not have a higher incidence of adult smoking than other villages in Portugal, he added.

On Saturday, the village’s children tentatively tried cigarettes given them by parents with what appeared to be a mixture of pride and excitement.

“Yes, I did give it. I can’t explain why,” Guilhermina Mateus, a local coffee shop owner, said.

“I don’t see any harm in that because they don’t really smoke, they inhale and immediately exhale, of course.

“It’s only on these days, today and tomorrow. They never ask cigarettes again, so I don’t see any harm.”

Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death in Europe and increases the risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions, including cancers, heart disease and stroke.

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