In Germany, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. That means plenty of sweets and millions of liters of mulled wine served up at Christmas markets, the epicenter of the country's holiday season, which began opening nationwide on Monday.
The traditional markets date back as early as the 13th century in the German-speaking world. Nowadays, some 2,500 markets nationwide create upwards of 180,000 jobs annually for the duration of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas.
Revenue for the Christmas market industry is difficult to measure, but analysts estimate the figure hovers somewhere been 3 billion and 5 billion each year.
Indeed, holiday traditions and treats are big business in Germany. The market research institute Nielsen reports that during the winter season of 2010 to 2011, more than 94 million were spent on chocolate Weihnachstmann, or Santa Claus figures alone.
The most famous markets in Germany are found in Nuremberg and Dresden. But Christmas markets scattered across the country offer something for everyone -- be it Berlin's upscale Gendarmenmarkt, Cologne's medieval-themed market, an "erotic" one catered to adults in Hamburg's fabled St. Pauli pleasure district, or even a market in the capital with discounted prices aimed at the long-term unemployed.