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Watch: Children in Portuguese village smoke to celebrate Epiphany

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By Emma Beswick & Alice Tidey
Watch: Children in Portuguese village smoke to celebrate Epiphany
Copyright  AFP

A small village in Portugal is drawing criticism for allowing young children to smoke to celebrate an Epiphany tradition.

The local custom in Vale de Salgueiro, in north-east Portugal, sees parents hand cigarettes to their offspring during Epiphany — a Christian celebration held on January 6 to remember the three wise men or kings who visited Jesus.

Despite criticism over the past few years, villagers have defended their tradition with Mayor Carlos Cadavez explaining to the AFP news agency that the off-beat convention was first created to celebrate "the emancipation of boys."

"Once at 14 or 15 years old, when they reached that age, they smoked a cigarette and as they used to say in the village, it made them men.

"For us, this celebration is very important, we give it a lot of importance and we will do everything to keep it as long as possible," Cadavez added.

Rui Sergio, a resident of the village, now an adult, said that as a child "we were impatient for January 5 to arrive so we could smoke our cigarette."

"It is a normal tradition for us because it has existed for many years," he added.

It is unclear when the tradition started in Vale de Salgueiro but Epiphany is an important celebration for Christians on the Iberian Peninsula. Other traditions include gift-giving, carol singing and eating a special cake.

In other places, priests throw a cross in a river and men then race to bring it back. The winner is then blessed by the priest and is meant to have luck for the rest of the year.