It’s a tenet of the Latter-day Saint faith that God sends prophets to the earth as appointed messengers from God. Twice a year, millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather in their homes, ward buildings, stake centers and some even in the conference center in downtown Salt Lake City to hear from senior church leaders. The semiannual gathering known as general conference is once again approaching this Saturday and Sunday — it’s the 194th Annual General Conference.

Traditions among Latter-day Saint families and wards involving the two-day conference have emerged over the years and range from baking comfort food to sincere devotional preparation to hear and internalize the messages to be delivered.

Some traditions are more serious and others are simply fun. According to a story published in the church’s children magazine, The Friend, after reading a story in the Book of Mormon about believers camping out to hear the prophetic words of King Benjamin, 9-year-old Elise asked, “Mom and Dad, do you think since tomorrow is general conference, we could pretend to be King Benjamin’s people and make a tent to listen to the prophets on TV?”

The family decided to pitch a tent indoors for conference and cozied up with snacks and supplies for taking notes.

And there are the cinnamon rolls. A 2023 survey of 916 Church News and Deseret News readers found one-third of respondents listed cinnamon rolls as their favorite general conference breakfast food (there were 10 total options including eggs, pancakes, waffles and breakfast casserole).

The Latter-day Saint creator behind Tweetle Dee Design Co. wrote about how she had the chance to teach her daughter how to make the cinnamon rolls the family eats twice a year. “Her favorite job as a little girl was to lick the beaters and she still does,” the blog entry says before listing the family’s recipe.

Shannon Symonds told the Church News conference morning felt like Christmas morning because her mother would make cinnamon rolls for the family.

Later, when Symonds and her husband moved to the Oregon coast, money was tight. She opened up her cupboard on a general conference Sunday to find all the ingredients she needed to make the rolls. “We lit a fire in the fireplace and gathered to say a prayer of thanks and enjoy our first general conference Sunday together. I had no idea how precious this tradition would become.”

When Ryan Jensen, editor of the Church News, grew up, he said his family would also eat cinnamon rolls on general conference, but also had other traditions.

“My dad made cinnamon rolls (with raisins) to help the five of us kids be a little more excited to get out of bed on Saturday morning,” Jensen wrote. “We had conference games, tie-coloring pages and other activities to stay engaged. Heaven bless my mother for all the work she put in to try to put us in a position to have a spiritual experience when we were young.”

The general conference tradition of baking cinnamon rolls

Many families similarly turn to activities like general conference versions of bingo and conference coloring books to help kids focus on the talks.

“As a mother, I want to help my children love listening to the prophet and other church leaders,” Shannon Foster told the Deseret News. Foster gives her children a notebook to take notes and throughout the sessions, they can earn pretend dollars they can spend at a a “store” set up with treats and prizes for her children.

“My children love and look forward to general conference and are always sad when the last session is over, but most importantly, they have listened to the messages,” Foster said. It’s a special time for her family, she said. She brings in fresh flowers, plans good meals and the family sets up small tables in the living room so they can all take notes.

At the family-level, these sorts of religious traditions and practices can create closeness. Writing for The Atlantic, Marks and Dollahite reflected on the Latter-day Saint tradition of designating Monday night as a time for family prayer, scripture reading and recreation. What matters most about religious family time, they wrote, “is not the specific rituals, but that there are rituals at all.”

Since general conference is available to watch online, many families stay home to talk in the messages. But some wards and stakes offer in-person gatherings like a ward breakfast or post-general conference ice cream social to bring the community together.

This is common in young single adult wards in Provo, Utah, and elsewhere, where wards often comprise university students who often cannot travel home to watch conference with family. Several wards have put on breakfasts with informal names like “Prophets and Pancakes.”

Erica Smith, a young single adult living in Layton, said she has fond memories of watching general conference in people’s dorm rooms and apartments. “I think that time of life can be a very lonely phase for a lot of people as people move away to college or different cities for work, and we’re separated from our families.”

Smith told the Deseret News that she’s been able to take traditions from her childhood — like her mom giving her candy every half-hour during conference — and share this tradition with her ward and college friends.

But it’s not just the nostalgia Smith loves. As a religious global gathering, the conference provides her with spiritual grounding.

“One of the things I love most about general conference is that it emphasizes to me that we’re a living modern church and we have living modern revelation that’s unique to our specific time we’re living in and our situations,” Smith said, adding that she looks forward to hearing where new temples will be announced.

A few weeks before the sessions start, Smith said she prepares questions, often about the milestones of her life, and thinks about them while listening to conference. Latter-day Saints believe that inspiration from God can help answer them.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles advises members of the Church of Jesus Christ to come to conference prepared with questions they have. “Answers to your specific prayers may come directly from a particular talk or specific phrase,” Elder Uchtdorf wrote in the September 2011 Ensign. “At other times answers may come in a seemingly unrelated word, phrase, or song.”

Some Latter-day Saints have taken to reading talks from the previous general conference before they watch again. President Russell M. Nelson, prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ, said, “I exhort you to study the messages of this conference frequently — even repeatedly — during the next six months.”

President Nelson isn’t the only prophet to encourage careful study of the conference addresses. The late President Thomas S. Monson said, “I encourage you to read the talks once again and to ponder the messages contained therein. I have found in my own life that I gain even more from these inspired sermons when I study them in greater depth.”

The Latter-day Saints I spoke to described general conference as a special time of faith, family and friends.

Foster said she grew up in a family with people of different religious backgrounds and at times not everyone was as excited about general conference. But she still fondly recalls sitting with family members, and listening to it together, and hopes to pass this tradition on.

“General conference can be some of the best family memories we create together.”