Why Kids In This Village Are Encouraged To Smoke Two Days a Year

Each year, the Epiphany celebrations in the Portuguese village of Vale de Salgueiro feature a tradition that causes an outcry among outsiders. Parents encourage their children — some as young as five — 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 celebration includes dancing around bonfires, a piper playing music, and an elected “king” who distributes wine and snacks. The legal age to purchase tobacco in Portugal is 18, but nothing prohibits parents from giving kids cigarettes and Portuguese authorities don’t intervene to stop the practice. The village is in a region that adheres to many traditions dating back to pagan times, and since the Roman era, during the winter solstice period villagers have taken the liberty to do things that would be out of the norm in the rest of the year. Portugal, like many other European countries, has taken steps to reduce smoking, including a partial ban on smoking indoors.