Every year the event, called the King’s Feast, draws outrage from outsiders who criticise the smoking tradition.
CHILDREN as young as five were encouraged to smoke cigarettes as part of Christian celebrations in a Portuguese town.
Shocking pictures from the Epiphany festival in Vale de Salgueiro show youngsters puffing away after being offered the addictive tobacco products by parents.
The local tradition dictates that children as young as five are permitted to smoke on the special occasion, despite the legal buying age for tobacco being 18 in Portugal.
Every year the event, called the King’s Feast, draws outrage and strong criticism from outsiders.
But despite the annual backlash, parents have continued to honour the allegedly centuries-old tradition by purchasing packets of cigarettes for their kids.
The practice is technically legal in the country as nothing in the law prohibits parents giving children cigarettes and authorities do not intervene to stop them.
A King is appointed every year, according to custom, and is responsible for organising all the Epiphany celebrations for the village.
This year’s King is a man called Alexandre Taveira.
Guilhermina Mateus, a 35-year-old coffee shop owner, explained why she takes part in the yearly tradition and gives her daughter cigarettes.
Ms Mateus said: “I don’t see any harm in that because they don’t really smoke, they inhale and immediately exhale.”
The celebrations see locals singing, dancing and smoking in the streets of Vale de Salgueiro.
The Epiphany festival is celebrated all over the globe, with traditional celebrations held in Europe, Africa and the Middle East – although the day is marked differently by Christians across the world.
Pregnant Kate Middleton and other royals strolled to a Sandringham church service in Norfolk this morning to celebrate the festival – though there were no smoking children in sight.
Epiphany, according to local Orthodox tradition, marks the day Jesus Christ was baptised by John the Baptist.
It is unclear why locals at Vale de Salgueiro have adopted the harmful smoking practice as part of the celebrations as nobody knows what it symbolises.
A more widely accepted tradition on the day involves a priest tossing a cross into the water for local men to retrieve.
The man who successfully retrieves the cross is then blessed by the priest and said to have good luck for the upcoming year.