For many, the overall hype surrounding Christmas is over as early as the day after. However, throughout history, Christmas lasts as long as twelve days. For many, this season of celebration goes all the way into the new year until as late as Jan. 19 (for some Orthodox Churches who have Christmas on January 7). In parts of the world, a King’s Feast is held at the end of Christmas called “Epiphany.” In theory, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. The primary focus is on the revelation to the Three Wise Men, as well as Christ’s baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana. The Epiphany celebrations in a Portuguese village feature a tradition that each year causes an uproar among outsiders. This celebration involves five-year-olds smoking for Jesus.
The annual event called The King’s Feast” raises questions and draws extensive criticism from those who oppose the local tradition. The celebrations in Vale de Salgueiro not only include smoking but also dancing, singing and other outdoor festivities. The event encourages children as young as five-years-old to smoke cigarettes for the special occasion. Despite the legal buying age for tobacco being 18 in Portugal, there are no legal ramifications that prohibit parents from giving children cigarettes. As such, authorities do not intervene to stop them.
The Epiphany is a two-day celebration which begins on Friday and concludes with a Mass on Saturday. The tradition also involves pipers playing music, dancing around bonfires, and an elected “king” who gives out a host of snacks and wine. Many seem unsure exactly why parents buy the packs of cigarettes for their children and encourage them to take part. Although the roots of the tradition are unknown, locals say the practice has continued for centuries as part of a celebration of life tied to the Christian Epiphany and the winter solstice.
Guilhermina Mateus, a 35-year-old coffee shop owner, gives her young daughter cigarettes to smoke as part of the custom. When questioned, Mateus said:
“I can’t explain why. I don’t see any harm in that because they don’t really smoke, they inhale and immediately exhale, of course. And it’s only on these days, today and tomorrow. They never ask for cigarettes again.”
Every year the town appoints a new King to oversee festival preparations. This year’s King is a man called Alexandre Taveira. The Epiphany festival is celebrated all around the globe but marked differently by Christians across the world. With traditional celebrations held in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. However, the village in Portuguese marks the celebration with five-year-olds smoking for Jesus.
Although smoking has known drawbacks, the parents feel the tradition produces no harm to the children. Smoking is addictive. It acts as a stimulant as well as a depressant and delivers nicotine to the brain quickly and repeatedly. Smoking also causes damage to the body. Scientists have proven that cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and increases morbidity and mortality. In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), exhaled smoke is toxic. Nearly 600,000 victims of secondhand smoke die each year.
It is unclear why locals at Vale de Salgueiro have adopted the harmful smoking practice as part of the celebrations. Just as in many other European countries, Portugal has made attempts to harness the practice of smoking, including an indoors partial ban. Many believe that the seclusion of the remote village has helped keep the tradition alive. However, each year during the annual King’s Feast, five-year-olds are smoking for Jesus.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
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WTOP: Portuguese town encourages children to smoke at Epiphany
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