THERE are many signs but it’s always the smell that tells you Christmas has come to Edinburgh. Earworm tunes by Mariah Carey, Wizzard and Slade might be blaring out, and you may brush against the soft needles of one of a thousand, locally sourced, evergreen trees, but it is only when the atmosphere impregnates your nose that you really know. As mulled wines, ciders, cinnamon wreathes, and fragrant-smoking Santas fumigate the air, that’s when you know that Edinburgh’s annual festivities have returned. It is still, just about, only November, but Christmas has arrived.

Such is the annual allure of a trip to Edinburgh’s delightful Christmas experience. I made two visits in the preparation of this week’s column: one under a glorious, winter sunshine and the other amid the second great flood of Genesis. Naturally, The Herald’s photographer was present for the latter only.

"It was like Alpine weather for the 2017 launch weekend," says Ruth Fisher, the producer of Edinburgh’s Christmas for Underbelly, the company contracted to run the show for the foreseeable future. "Sadly, the rain has arrived this week but that isn’t dampening the spirits of our visitors or everyone working here."

With a forecast predicting sunshine, once again, around the corner, Ruth’s spirits remain deservedly high. "This year, I think we’ve excelled ourselves," she says. "We’ve pulled out all the stops to make it the best Christmas we’ve had.’

And it’s true: dark clouds aside, Edinburgh has never felt – nor looked – quite so festive. New attractions for 2017 include a giant dome on George Street, lit by 140,000 pea lights (that’s a stunning 40km of lights stretched over the dome), and a brand-new Ice Adventure, to celebrate the history of Frozen Scotland.

"There’s lots of wonderful creatures and beings in there for everyone to take a wee tour round and discover Scotland’s rich history in ice," says Ruth. "It feels nice and Christmassy, almost a little bit cosy … strange, because it’s minus ten in there so you have to wrap up warm to go in.

"It’s really important to develop Edinburgh’s Christmas every year and make sure it doesn’t become staid and boring. I think Christmas markets can often just be a repeat every year, so we try to have new attractions, new traders and exciting new free events. I think we do that very well at Edinburgh’s Christmas."

Of course, much of the enduring appeal of Edinburgh’s market centrepiece is surely down to the familiarity of its annual layout. Fragments may shift from year to year but the basics offer consistency for a turbulent world. Forest-brown, red-capped huts will always host vendors selling woollens, woodcraft, cheeses and chutneys. Funfair rides, a Christmas tree maze and bratwurst bars are all common features, whilst this is surely the only time of year that many in Edinburgh will encounter such a vast selection of churros. That said, this year, watch out for a new influx of local options to accompany the Bavarian.

"I think that Scotland has an enormous amount to offer when it comes to street food," says Ruth. "We are showcasing quite a few of them in the market this year. I think contemporary meets traditional is the way to go."

Whatever they’re doing they seem to be doing it right. Over a million visitors are expected to descend on Edinburgh, specifically for the Christmas market and events, this year, on top of a general footfall of almost four million. Whilst just over 50 per cent will be joining in from Scotland and the wider UK, it is believed that tourists travel from around 64 countries worldwide just to enjoy Edinburgh’s unique festive reverie.

Were the statistics not enough to convince of the global appeal of Christmas in Edinburgh, a stroll through the market alone exposes visitors to accents and languages of fantastic variety. I spoke to Stephanie, who had flown all the way from Australia to stay with her locally-based friend Verdan, and is experiencing Edinburgh’s Christmas for the very first time.

"I wanted a cold Christmas because obviously back home it’s very hot at this time of year," she said, before adding, with one eye on the gloomy sky: "Edinburgh seemed like a good idea at the time." Has the rain spoiled the day? "No, it’s gorgeous!" She enthuses.

Also here by long commute is Cotaline, from Hungary, but she’s no stranger to Princes Street. "This is the fourth Christmas market I’ve been to," she says. Cotaline’s running the stall of a German group, selling woodwork crafted from the finest materials of the Black Forest. "I just love Christmas and, when I was a young girl, I always wanted to be Santa’s wife so this is why I come here every year. I love it!"

For all the fun and joviality, it’s also clear that security has never been tighter. Last year, a traumatic attack on Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz saw 12 killed by a follower of ISIS, driving a lorry through the local market. It’s just one of many recent acts of terrorism that will surely worry those hoping to enjoy such communal events. According to Ruth, however, Edinburgh’s public safety measures aren’t knee-jerk reactions but annually reviewed and well-planned arrangements with Police Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council.

"Edinburgh’s Christmas is a large-scale event across numerous sites in the city centre," she tells me, "security’s always at the forefront of our mind."

Though measures, such as barriers to sites are noticeable, even reassuring, there’s little sign in the market of anyone struggling to have a good time, let alone stay at home. Indeed, as one wanders from attraction to attraction and stall to stall, resisting the temptations of dark, milk and white chocolate fountains along the way, Edinburgh’s Christmas does feel genuinely very homely.

One final treat, brand-new this year, is the giant Advent Calendar that’s all set for projection onto the façade of General Register House, from Waverley Gate, between 1st and 25th December. Each evening, from 5.30 to 10pm, the display will showcase a contemporary animation, celebrating a Scottish winter of days gone by. With the final touches just about to be finished off, from what we’ve heard, you won’t want to miss it.

"Watch this space," beams Ruth.