Christmas celebrations take place around the world, but in Germany, Christmas markets fill dozens of cities with joy, laughter and the holiday spirit.
Themed booths line the busy streets, and city squares are filled with crafts and foods matching the festive season.
Large markets pop up at the end of November in cities including Munich, Berlin, Nuremberg, Dresden, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. However, almost every town has its own market.
They are known as Christkindlmarkts, a concept that originated in Germany before spreading to other countries. They typically appear during the four weeks of Advent.
Dresden's Striezelmarkt is considered the first genuine market; it was first held in 1434. However, there's proof these type of markets existed as early as the 1200s.
Now, cities like Dortmund and Cologne see nearly 4 million visitors during just a handful of weeks. Christkindlmarkts aren't just a staple of German communities; they're some of the largest tourist attractions in the world.
Here's a small taste of what you'll find there
Food & drink
It wouldn't be a Christmas festival in Germany without cases of decadent pastries, food stands offering delicious seasonal dishes and drink stalls with steaming mulled wine.
Bakeries are stacked with fresh bread and traditional cakes in the morning, and they also include seasonal selections of Stollen and Lángos.
Stollen is a moist cake with a firm crust covered in powdered sugar, usually filled with fruits, spices and nuts. Lángos is a circular piece of fried dough typically made with savory or sweet toppings like cheese or cream.
Decadent dessert booths typically specialize in one or two classic morsels.
Gingerbread cookies, or Lebkuchen, are made in various shapes and sizes, and sometimes have sweet phrases written on them in icing.
You can't walk too far without finding fried confectionaries like Schmalzkuchen and Baumstriezel to warm you up.
While Schmalzkuchen are like mini doughnut puffs covered in sugar, Baumstriezel (also called chimney cakes) are tall and hollowed out circular pieces of dough coated with cinnamon and sugar.
Other Christmas market favorites include Dampfnudel and Marzipan. The first is a fluffy piece of bread or dumpling covered in warm vanilla sauce or jam. Marzipan are circular sweet balls made of ground eggs, almonds, sugar and honey.
Of course Germany doesn't forget to cover a variety of items in chocolate. Schaumkuss are marshmallows dunked in different flavors of chocolate and toppings. There are also many stands with chocolate-covered fruit skewers called Fruchtspieße.
There are plenty of places to balance out your sweet tooth with more savory and hearty fare.
You can find a large variety of sausages or wursts to try, but the staples include Bratwurst, Weisswurst and Currywurst. A common lunchtime favorite is the meatloaf-like Leberkäse, which translates to "liver cheese," even though it doesn't contain liver or cheese.
Other popular dishes include Reibekuchen (potato pancakes), Flammkuchen (mini pizzas), Kaesespaetzle (similar to mac n' cheese) and Schupfnudeln (finger-like potato noodles covered in bacon and sauerkraut).
Of course, you can't go wrong with a fresh large pretzel or the hot flavored almonds called Gebrannte Mandeln.
While nearly every German town has endless barrels of beer that you can try, the Christmas markets bring out a variety of delicious hot beverages as well.
The most popular drink at the market is hot mulled wine called Glühwein. The warm and bittersweet drink not only puts you in the Christmas spirit, but it also will keep you warm on the cold winter night outside.
Most booths offer you a festive cup to drink from that you can keep or return to get a deposit back. This way it can be a souvenir or a perfect prop for a social media post. The best part? Less waste and no plastic!
Other favorite warm drinks to gulp down are Heiße Schokolade (hot chocolate, with an option of rum), Eierpunsch (German eggnog, but sweet like apple juice), Grog (literally hot water and rum) or Kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic spiced juice).
While this list definitely doesn’t encompass all you can find to eat and drink at a German Christmas market, it's a good start for sure.
Entertainment & crafts
The city squares and surrounding streets are filled with the festive buzz and energy from the crowds of people making their way through.
There will often be special dances going on, with residents in full costume and people singing their favorite Christmas songs in all kinds of languages.
You may even encounter the scary Krampus and his parade of demons in some cities as they march throughout the town.
And if you're a Christmas tree lover, most markets come complete with some of the largest trees you'll ever see, decorated from top branch to stump with bows, lights and ornaments.
Mixed in with the food and beverage booths are homemade crafts created rom all different kinds of materials.
There are stained glass creations, trains for collectors, every type of ornament possible, nativity scenes and almost anything you could dream of to decorate your home.
Handcrafted wood carvings, snow globes and molded candle holders are popular as well. There's also a large variety of jewelry made from all types of local materials and stones.
Variations on the market theme
While there are staples you'll find in just about any market, some take on special themes to make their festivities stand out.
Tubingen celebrates the holiday season with a week-long chocolate festival. Munich opens up a special medieval market with different crafts and meats.
Other countries have deep histories with Christmas markets as well.
Cities like Salzburg and Vienna in Austria host huge Weihnachtsmarkts or December markets. (They also held some of the earliest holiday markets in recorded history.)
In addition, cities in France, Spain, England and Switzerland are well known for their memorable Christmas markets across Europe.
You can’t go wrong with venturing to a Christmas market in general, but heading to Germany may truly be worth your time and money.
The United States inherited a lot of its Christmas tradition and spirit from Germany, and the kind people you'll meet along the way will make that Stollen or Glühwein taste that much better.