Ofrenda (“offering” in Spanish) is the first perfume from Parfumerie Imaginaire. It was inspired by a day spent in Oaxaca, Mexico, during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations — held each year on November 1-2.
Ofrenda contains pungent, spicy marigold (its rich scent and brilliant orange color are believed to guide the deceased back 'home' — thus its designation as the flower of the dead), heady tequila, powdery masa, fresh chili, “hot” vanilla (think vanilla pods simmering in boiling sugar that will be molded into candy skulls), beeswax, and haunting copal incense.
Ofrenda comes in a milky-white bottle with a “melted” gold skull stopper (imagine the worn face of a marble angel in a cemetery, eroded by a hundred years of rain, sun, wind). The bottle is wrapped in a black tissue paper cut-out, or papel picado, showing a skeleton spraying on some perfume.
This is the perfect scent to wear on a cool autumn night while leaning against a tombstone, sipping some warm chocolate atole, eating a tamale, singing songs and welcoming the "visitors" — the dead — who are returning for a night of feasting with their families who still live and breathe.
I’m not one to shun the past but going backward in time often leads to sadness and a focus on what, and who, has disappeared. I appreciate Día de los Muertos because on these few days each year one can invite the “missing” back home for some music, laughter and good things to eat and drink (and smell) — no tears allowed!
Why not prepare a full-scale Day of the Dead fiesta this year? If that’s not possible, buy a candle or some incense to burn next to a photo of someone you remember and yearn to see again.
On my Day of the Dead altar, full of offerings to family members who have "gone", you will always find flowers: cockscomb and fragrant orange marigolds, known to the Aztecs as cempasúchil. The scent of marigold is hard to come by in perfumed products but try the large Day of the Dead marigold-scented pilar candles ($13.75 each, at paganshopping) or Tagetes glandulifera essential oil for use on light bulb rings or in diffusers (10 ml/$24 at buyaromatherapy).
The most important offerings for your altar are food and drink to refresh your guests, both ethereal and flesh-and-blood. There should always be a favorite food of the departed, photos of the dead and mementos of their lives. At my house, you’re as likely to see a dog leash or cat collar on the altar as you are an old pair of reading glasses or a favorite book or fishing pole, as likely to spot a dish of bonito tuna flakes that were relished by my tabby-supreme Pandhee de LaFayette, as you are the slice of sharp cheddar cheese my father loved, or the biscuits my grandmother enjoyed. Even if you’re not cooking (shame on you!), your house can smell enticing with food aromas. Archipelago Botanicals Home Soy Candles come in chipotle and poblano chili scents (14 oz., $29, beautifulperfumes).
One must have sugar skulls and papier mâché skeletons in the house. Don’t let mortality scare you to death…laugh a little. Stock up on skull candles, both pricey ($39 at ablazecandles) and inexpensive ($6.99 in red, white, green and black wax, abaxion). Duplicate the fresh floral aroma of Mexican vanilla used in sugar skulls with a Sparkling Vanilla candle (14.5 oz./$20) or Sugarcane and Vanilla votives ($1.79 each, both available at yankeecandle).
Tequila! Don’t be stingy mi amigos — put out some Tequila Time Lime Margarita Gel Candles (in margarita glass holders, $15.95 at geltyme).
If you have teetotalers or children among your guests, serve Mexican hot chocolate and also savor Pacifica’s Mexican Cocoa candles, scented with dark chocolate, bitter almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla ($8-35, pacificacandles).
Incense and candles make the altar come alive with fire and smoke. Be traditional and choose the scent of copal, an aromatic incense resin whose smoke was offered as "food" to the gods in ancient Mexico. Splurge — you only live once — on a BURN RARE Golden Copal candle ($95, beautyhabit) or heat up some authentic copal resin (8 oz./$24 at corazonfairtrade) on hot charcoal or smoldering logs in your fireplace. Fred Soll makes Magical Copal & Copal Negro Incense (20 sticks for $10 at thepurplepeople). If Catholic saints appeal to you more than Aztec deities, recreate the smell of a baroque church in the Mexican highlands with beeswax candles (12 inch tapers, $8.78 a pair, beeswaxcandleco) or Monastery Icons’ Queen of Heaven or Nazareth incense (½ lb of incense, $25 at monasteryicons).
If all these scents and sensations have not satisfied you completely, order some authentic (and freshly baked) bread of the dead from mexgrocer — it too is sweet and fragrant with orange essence and anise and has bone shapes baked onto the top of the loaves; (bonus: it can be chewed and swallowed). Buen apetito and … Viva!