if the first visitor entering a home on Wigilia was a male, that was said to bring good luck but a female visitor foretold misfortune.
And in Scotland, the first visitor over the threshold after midnight on New Year's Eve was ideally a tall, dark haired man, as this was said to bring good luck for the year! He was known as the First Foot. In some regions the female was also considered bad luck.
And if a child should have to be spanked on Christmas Eve for misbehaving, that was what was in store for him or her all year long.
Poor child! Diabolically clever way of keeping the little ones quiet during a busy day for the adults of the house.
Grown-ups too were on their best behavior, refrained from arguments
And we're observing that tradition on this thread, very good.
Still, it was held that the general mood should be solemn,
Yes, I think that prevails somewhat even today.
Various forms of fortune-telling
Interesting, a Pagan custom which survived I would say as fortune telling was very much against the Christian tradition.
According to another folk belief farm animals could speak in human voices at midnight
Yes I believe that belief exists in other parts of Europe too.
Thank you Polly, all very interesting and here's my contribution. I found this on YouTube. It's from the Śląsk region. It's a bit 'staged' but it's nice:
But he described an almost troll like short squat figure,
Yes, yes, that's right. In the poem 'Twas The Night Before Christmas', (proper title A Visit From St Nicholas) Santa is a tiny elfin figure, which is why he can come down the chimney so easily. That was written sometime in the 1820s. He was an almost exact contemporary of Irving. I mean the author of the poem, Clement Clarke Moore, not Santa!