In a world of smartphones, tablets and online retailers allowing you to make purchases at the click of a button, the traditional Christmas market might seem like an antiquated concept.
However, there is no doubt that these events remain popular among British shoppers. They attract millions of visitors every year, providing a major financial boost for local communities and small businesses.
So just how important are Christmas markets in economic terms, and why do people flock to them year after year?
Contribution to local economies
The biggest Christmas markets represent a major financial benefit for their local economies, with people from all over the country visiting them every December.
Recently, they appear to have become more popular than ever, with improvements in economic conditions and personal financial situations resulting in higher visitor numbers and increased spending.
Take the German-style Christmas market in Birmingham, for instance, which attracts more than four million shoppers and brings in £90 million for the city's economy, according to the Birmingham Post. The event is even bigger than the annual festive fair in Berlin.
At last year's opening, Birmingham's Lord Mayor Mike Leddy said: "[The market will] give a welcome boost to our shops, restaurants and hotels, which are set to benefit from the additional visitors that the markets attract to the city from the wider region, the UK and Europe."
Manchester's Christmas markets enjoyed a particularly strong start to the festive season this year, with figures showing that a record 200,000 people visited the events over their opening weekends. This number increased to more than 500,000 in the first ten days.
The local importance of seasonal markets is just as evident in London, which hosts highly popular events in tourists hotspots and commerce hubs like Hyde Park, Belgravia, the Southbank and Canary Wharf.
Physical shopping in a digital world
There is no doubt that we live in a digital world, with technology making it easier than ever to buy products online and have them delivered to our doorstep. But this has not dimmed the passion consumers have for physically browsing through products and buying them in person.
Statistics from the British Retail Consortium show that, while internet buying was the main engine of growth for retail sales last Christmas, the proportion of non-food items purchased online remained below one in five.
One big reason for the ongoing popularity of markets in our hi-tech world is the sense of fun and togetherness that people get from shopping in person, particularly around Christmas.
Maximilien Lejeune, executive director of European Best Destinations, a forum that lets travellers vote on their favourite Christmas markets, said one of the key aspects of these events is their "soul".
He told the Huffington Post that they cater to people who are looking for something other than "plastic gifts manufactured at the other end of the earth".
"The best Christmas markets in Europe still offer quality craftsmanship and therefore unique gifts for your family, friends and for yourself."
In short, market browsing offers a personal touch and a sense of character that is largely absent from online shopping.
What do Britain's biggest and best markets offer?
The aforementioned Christmas markets in the centres of Birmingham and Manchester offer everything you would expect from such events, including hundreds of stalls selling festive food and drink, gifts, decorations, handcrafted pieces of art and much more.
London's festive celebrations provide a range of experiences for visitors, including the ice skating, circus shows and fairground rides that accompany the market at Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland.
The capital also offers Christmas browsing at the Barbican Centre, designer market stalls in Greenwich and a winter-themed adventure playground at Victoria Park.
Outside England, the gardens of Belfast's City Hall host a continental market serving culinary treats including Belgian chocolates, French tarts and German sausages. Several locations in Edinburgh, including Princes Street Gardens and St Andrew Square, provide the settings for events that continue into the new year.
Some of the quaintest and most romantic Christmas markets can be found in picturesque cathedral towns and cities around the UK, such as Exeter, Canterbury and Salisbury.
There is no doubt that events like these will remain popular as the festive season gets underway in earnest, providing an invaluable boost for regional economies, small businesses and local traders.
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