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For many priesthood-holding Latter-day Saint males, ages 12 and up, the Saturday night priesthood session of general conference means ice cream.
Of course, it also means listening to inspired words and teachings from the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including, traditionally, the entire First Presidency. And there's always a terrific men's choir to provide soul-stirring music and the opportunity to enjoy the session with other priesthood holders, either in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City or at one of the hundreds of satellite-broadcast locations around the church.
All of that is important — no doubt about it. But for many LDS males, shared pre- or post-conference treats and meals have become as much a part of their general conference traditions as wearing a white shirt and tie or standing and singing the congregational hymn in the middle of the session.
And for Deseret News contributors Bill Hill,Seth Saunders and many others, that means ice cream.
"I think everybody eats ice cream after this session," Hill writes from his home in Idaho Falls. "Maybe there is something in the (priesthood meeting) addresses that transacts well with something cold and sweet. I don't know."
When Saunders was growing up, he said, priesthood meeting "was less about the talks given but more about getting ice cream after the session with my dad."
"For some reason, that ice cream always seemed a bit sweeter and more tasteful than ice cream other times of the year," he writes from Virginia Beach, Va. "I am sure it was because we had just had such a wonderful spiritual feast, and the ice cream was the perfect ending."
Also in Virginia, Bishop Tony Padilla of the Manassas 2nd Ward mixes the ice cream treats with doughnuts and accountability for his sons. After conference is over, he takes his sons out for ice cream and also picks up some doughnuts, which they take home to share with his wife, Sue. While they enjoy the doughnuts together, the boys are called upon to report to their mother about the talks they heard during conference.
"They never know which talk they're going to have to report on, so they have to take notes on all of them," Padilla said. "It motivates them to pay attention during the session. It keeps me alert, too, because I have to know when they're bluffing."
The key to the exercise, however, is the ice cream and doughnuts.
"Because there are treats involved, they actually look forward to this each conference," he said. "Without the treats, it would just be another church meeting they have to put on a white shirt and tie for."
Which is not to say that ice cream is the only option for traditions associated with the general priesthood meeting. In Heber City, members of the Wright family gather after priesthood conference to share a meal of canned sardines, kipper snacks and Grandma Lois' homemade chili.
If ice cream has an opposite, the Wright family priesthood meal is probably it.
According to George Wright of Pleasant Grove, the tradition started years ago when his grandfather, Ray, became active in the LDS Church after years of inactivity. After he went to his first general conference priesthood meeting with his sons, they all decided to go back to the family home for something to eat. Unfortunately, the only thing they could find in the house to eat was a few cans of sardines. So they ate them — and had a pretty good time in the process.
Six months later, when general conference priesthood meeting time came again, they decided they had enjoyed the last post-meeting snack so much they wanted to have sardines again — and a priesthood meeting tradition was born.
"The tradition has continued for years," George Wright said. "When I turned 12, I was probably more excited about going to eat sardines at Grandma's house than I was to go to priesthood meeting."
The same thing was true for Wright's son, Kyle, who held some sardines in his mouth all the way from Grandma Lois' house to his house so he could give his Mom an official priesthood meeting sardine kiss.
The tradition will change a little this conference. Grandma Lois passed away a few months ago.
"I assume the gathering will move to my dad's house now," George Wright said. "We'll have sardines, but we'll miss Grandma. She was always there, asking us about conference as she dished up sardines and chili. For me, Grandma Wright will always be synonomous with priesthood meeting because of that tradition."
Depending on the time zone, the priesthood meeting tradition can be either a pre-meeting or a post-meeting affair. Deseret News contributor Mark Rappleye of Marysville, Ohio, reports members of his ward congregation traditionally "eat dinner together at the chapel before watching the general conference priesthood session broadcast."
According to Rappleye, the tradition began as a pizza social, but it has "evolved over the years into a potluck dinner" — although pizza is still always on the potluck menu.
And in Arlington, Texas, Linda Grimmett traditionally has sweet rolls fresh out of the oven waiting for her husband, Russell, and her sons and sons-in-law when they come home from priesthood meeting.
Along Utah's Wasatch Front, restaurants and ice cream parlors gear up for the post-conference rush. Within minutes after they say "amen" to the priesthood meeting benediction, scores of white-shirted men and boys can be seen standing in long lines waiting to be seated or served.
"Priesthood meeting nights are our two biggest nights of the year, so it's something we plan on and really try to prepare our people for," said Callie Orr, production manager of the Chuck-A-Rama buffet-style restaurant on Salt Lake City's 400 South, just a few blocks southeast of the Conference Center. "We double up the staff that night and order double the amount of food we usually order. Those guys always come in here hungry."
Especially if they've had to wait in line for 45 minutes to an hour.
"We try to get people in as fast as we can," Orr said, "but it's such a big crowd that night. So we usually stay open past our usual closing time in order to make sure everyone gets a chance to eat everything they want to eat."
Kurt Manwaring, a graduate student at the University of Utah and a Deseret News contributor, said his traditional post-conference Italian dinner with a friend is about more than just feeding a hungry stomach.
"We discuss what we have learned from the speakers, talk about how we have felt, share our experiences about our efforts to become like the Savior and dole out pass-along cards to our waiters," he said. "Sometimes we feel prompted to bring others with us. Always we find the words of the prophets sinking deeper into our hearts, and the bonds of our friendship strengthened. It's a fantastic tradition!"
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