Little kids in Portuguese town celebrate Epiphany ... smoking cigarettes

Villagers in a remote town in Portugal celebrated the Epiphany in their old traditional way, which includes children as young as 5 years old smoking cigarettes.

And many outsiders were fuming.

Locals say nobody is sure what the centuries-old tradition really symbolizes or why parents are buying cigarettes for their kids.  

Even though the legal age in Portugal to purchase tobacco is 18, parents in the small town of Vale de Salgueiro encourage their children to smoke and embrace the tradition, which ties to the winter solstice.


"I don't see any harm in that because they don't really smoke," said Guilhermina Mateus, a 35-year-old mother and coffee shop, to the AP. "They inhale and immediately exhale, of course," she said. "And it's only on these days, today and tomorrow. They never ask for cigarettes again."

The two-day festivities included dancing around bonfires, a piper playing music, and an elected “king” who distributes a flow of wine and snacks.

Ines, 8 years old, reacts as her father Frederico hands her her first cigarette, in the village of Vale de Salgueiro, northern Portugal, during the local Kings' Feast Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. The village's Epiphany celebrations, called Kings' Feast, feature a tradition that each year causes an outcry among outsiders: parents encourage their children, some as young as 5, to smoke cigarettes. Parents buy the packs of cigarettes for their children. Locals say the practice is centuries-old, but nobody is sure what it symbolizes nor why the children are incited to smoke. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

The roots of the tradition are unknown, but may have to do with celebrating the rebirth of nature and human life.  (AP)

Jose Ribeirinha, a writer who has published a book on the Vale do Salgueiro festivities, said the roots of the tradition are unknown, but may have to do with celebrating the rebirth of nature and human life.

He said the village is in a region that adheres to many traditions dating back to pagan times, and during the winter solstice period villagers here take the liberty to do things that would be out of the norm in the rest of the year.


Ribeirinha also believes the relative seclusion of the remote village — 280 miles northeast of the capital Lisbon — has helped keep the tradition alive. He said that the surrounding Tras os Montes region "has always been the furthest from Lisbon, the most 'forgotten one.'"

Portugal, like many other European countries, has taken steps to reduce smoking, including a partial ban on smoking indoors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.